Thursday, September 27, 2012

Regional Mass Transit Disappointment

I have to say I'm disappointed that the regional mass transit system that was investigated by Ottawa County officials as been deemed not feasible at this time based on a consultant's report. The news was reported in both MLive and the Grand Haven Tribune.

I was particularly excited about the potential to take mass transit from city to city in the West Michigan "triangle" -- Muskegon to Grand Haven and Holland and to Grand Rapids. Routes would also have gone from Grand Haven to the Grand Valley State University Allendale campus, potentially giving me a different way to work.

Ridership on the "Rapid" from GVSU's Allendale campus to area apartments and to the downtown Grand Rapids campus exceeds 1 million per year. I know that this includes primarily college students, many without cars or on lower budget, and that the route is subsidized. But I ride it myself when I have to teach or have a meeting downtown, and I see many other faculty and staff on the "Route 50" bus in recent years.

This shows that even if people have cars, they may find mass transit an advantage for gas savings, the ability to read or relax instead of drive, and no need to search or pay for parking at your destination. They took the bus because it was free, and obviously available at many stops on campus or between campuses. In other words, people who never would say in a survey that they would take the bus are now doing so once they have the opportunity to experience it vs merely imagine it.

Officials who looked into this option no doubt have to consider the cost factor. The initial capital outlay of nearly $2 million followed by about as much in annual operating expenses isn't cheap, particularly in times when municipalities across the country are pinching pennies and cutting services.

But I can't help but wonder if there would be an "if you build it they will come" phenomenon if there could be a creative way to raise seed money to build the system and operate it for its initial one or two years. I can hope. At least the officials are saying they'll hang on to the consultant study in case economic conditions warrant reconsidering the transit system in the future.

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