Illinois Public Media News
Decatur will soon have taxi service again.
The city council Tuesday night agreed to issue a license to A1 Taxi, a company operated by Anthony Walker.
Walker previously ran AOK Taxi, but his license was revoked after he allegedly used an unregistered vehicle, and made unannounced changes to the company's fleet. City Manager Ryan McCrady said he is hopeful the same problems won't happen again.
"Many people might be surprised that we re-issued a license to a gentleman who was involved in the operations of that company, too," McCrady said. "But at the end of the day, you have to put that stuff aside and figure out what's right for your community. Our community needs a taxi service. We have transportation needs in our community that can't be fulfilled efficiently through public transit, and a taxi service is the best way to solve that need."
McCrady said the city will work with Walker closer this time around to make sure the taxis are safe and the company is well regulated. He added that A1 Taxi should be up at running within a couple of weeks.
Indiana's first specialty license plate that benefits gay causes is now available for purchase.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the Indiana Youth Group plate has been available since Dec. 28. The plate bears a logo with hands in rainbow colors reaching up out of a circle.
Some $25 from sales of each $40 plate goes to the group serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Youth Group Director Mary Byrne tells The Indianapolis Star ( http://indy.st/zl90uE ) that Indiana is the second state in the nation with a specialty plate benefiting gay youths. She says Maryland was the first.
The Youth Group sued the state in 2010 after the BMV twice turned down its request for a specialty plate. Both sides later reached an agreement and the plate was approved.
(Photo courtesy of BMV)
Starting in May, an airline carrier will begin providing flights from Bloomington's airport to Florida's Orlando-Sanford International Airport.
AirTran currently offers flights each week into and out of Bloomington to Florida, but that airline will end service in June. Carl Olson, who is the director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport, said Allegiant Air will maintain a new connection to Florida.
"There are other business destinations that we're interested in looking at, but you have to go where the customers are," Olson said. "You have to realize that an airport is a business that has to serve our customers, and our customers in Central Illinois want to go to Central Florida."
Allegiant currently operates flights between Peoria and Tampa, as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix.
With AirTran's imminent departure this summer, the Bloomington airport is expected to lose about 40-percent of its service. AirTran's jets carry 117 passengers while Allegiant flies 150. Olson said he could not comment on efforts to retain that lost business, but he said AirTran's flights have averaged 90-percent capacity and he anticipates similar results with Allegiant Air.
Allegiant begins Thursday and Sunday service between Bloomington-Normal and the Orlando area on May 16, just weeks before AirTran ends its flights. Allegiant is offering $75 one-way introductory fares for this summer if booked by Feb. 6.
Meanwhile, Vision Airlines recently ended service between Champaign's Willard Airport and an airport near Fort Myers, Florida.
Decatur lost its only taxi service last year.
But its city manager hopes the owner of that company can start up something new, and be ready in about a month. AOK Taxi was shut down last year, after reports of the company using an unregistered vehicle, and making unannounced changes to the company and fleet.
Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady says company owner Anthony Walker applied for a new license on Tuesday. But Walker also asked to hold off on a recommendation to city council until he reviewed his financial plans. If he moves forward with it, McCrady says that will essentially wipe the slate clean for Walker.
"If he meets all the requirements to have a license, then there's really no sense in trying to open old wounds and bring those issues back up again," he said. "The key thing is to get a service operating in Decatur that meet the requirements of the city than our residents can safely operate in. And if Mr. Walker can do that with his new company, then that's the best case scenario for everybody."
If that doesn't happen, McCrady says offers have come in from taxi services in nearby towns. Meanwhile, Walker says he'll decide whether to follow through with his plan by next week. If that happens, Walker says he plans to raise cab fares to make them more in line to what other nearby companies charge.
"It's a service to the community, but I don't want to run this operation like the community needs it, then it doesn't need to be profitable," he said. "Because that's the wrong way I looked at it once before."
Walker says the hike in fares is needed with the rising cost in fuel. He plans to meet with local bar owners next week to discuss potential collaborations before deciding whether to move forward.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is getting $186 million for its high-speed rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood awarded the money to IDOT on Wednesday. LaHood's office says the cash will be used to extend construction of the rail corridor to Joliet. That'll allow for 110-mph service along nearly 70 percent of the route.
Construction is already under way on the Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor. Work on the extension to Joliet will begin this spring.
LaHood says the Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion to create high-speed rail service in the Great Lakes-Midwest region. He says the project will ultimately reduce travel times and congestion while creating jobs and increasing business opportunities.
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is trying to expand the use of technology for its riders.
That is why it has launched a competition for software developers to come up with applications that work on smart phones, desktops, and other devices. Karl Gnadt, who is the CUMTD's director market development, said more people are using this sort of technology to look up information about bus departures and arrivals.
"More and more are telling us that they don't use our schedule books, that they use the real time information," Gnadt said. "Typically, they'll get that on a mobile device. Though, often times they will use a computer as well."
The top three software developers will get a cash prize of $1000, $600, and $200, but Gnadt said all of the applications submitted will be in circulation on smart phones, desktops, and other devices.
"We think that the top three that the judges select are probably going to be the best of the bunch," he said. "So, I would think that those three would be the most popular and the most used."
Gnadt said there are currently about a dozen applications in circulation for CUMTD riders.
The deadline for the competition is Feb. 20.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has a request for the judge who is scheduled to sentence him next month. He's hoping it could lead to a lighter prison sentence. Blagojevich wants to play in court previously sealed portions of federal wiretap recordings. His attorneys filed the request on Thanksgiving Day.
Blagojevich's lawyers say he should be allowed to use parts of tapes as a way to argue that he deserves a lighter sentence. They say the tapes will describe Blagojevich's state of mind and "lack of ill intent."
The portions that the ex-governor wants played were blocked from being heard at his trial last June when he was convicted on 17 of 20 charges.
Those charges included attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich's sentencing hearing is set to begin Dec. 6 before U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is looking to increase penalties for drivers who illegally park in spots reserved for the disabled.
Starting in January, White said his office will look into increasing fines for those who illegally park in reserved spots without a placard and for those who use fraudulent placards. This comes after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed fine increases for those who use fake, stolen or altered disability placards to park.
"I think it's a violation of all laws of human decency for you to be able bodied but yet you want to take advantage of a program that has been set aside for those in need," said White.
White said he's considering upping the fines for illegally using disability permits to more than $2,000. Current fines for motorists start at $350 for parking without a placard, and a $500 fine and 30-day driver's license suspension for those illegally using one.
White also said his office will again increase enforcement of disability parking rules at malls during the holiday season. Secretary of State police will be outposted at malls in Schaumburg, Rockford, Springfield and Marion on Black Friday and through the weekend. A spokesperson for White's office says this is the first year Secretary of State police will target several malls on Black Friday since the upped enforcement began in 2005.
The spokesperson said the office's police force will move mall-by-mall throughout the state through the remainder of the year.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving has given Illinois its highest rating for the state's efforts to combat impaired driving.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's glad the organization has recognized Illinois "as a national leader in the fight against drunk driving.''
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crash deaths have dropped by more than 38 percent since White took office.
IDOT reports there were 711 alcohol-related crash deaths in 1999, compared to 436 last year.
This marks the 5th year that MADD has released a national and state rankings report.
The group's rating system focused on efforts including sobriety checkpoints, enhanced penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, among other measures.
The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.
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