GVSU Students Get On Board

April 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Rapid bus system's Route 50, the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) campus connector that runs between the university's Allendale and Grand Rapids campuses, appears to be growing more popular of late.

In December ridership on the route increased by 33 percent over the same month the year before, and in January ridership jumped 86 percent to 26,104 — up from 14,045 reported in January 2001.

And it's not as if GVSU students are without their own wheels.

A survey conducted by the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP) in December revealed 71 percent of the students riding Route 50 had a vehicle. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they rode the campus connector three to five times a week; nearly 28 percent said they use it eight or more times a week; and 23 percent said they ride the route six to eight times in a week.

Cost may have something to do with it.

GVSU students, faculty and staff can ride the route free Monday through Friday with a current university ID. The university pays for the service under contract with ITP, said Lisa Haynes, director of operations for GVSU's downtown campus.

Haynes suspects ridership is increasing simply because word is getting around.

"You can use advertising programs and everything else, but if you have a dependable, convenient service, people are going to ride, and the more people that find out about the service, the more people that will ride," she said.

"It's funny because you can put a lot of information out there and put fliers in all their mailboxes, but until a friend tells them it's cool to use, they won't use it. A lot of our students nowadays are from different communities and have never had to use public transportation."

Route 50's ridership spike could also be related to one of ITP's and GVSU's more recent joint marketing efforts. The university did a blitz of articles about the service in its student newspaper last fall, Haynes said. And freshmen attending admissions and orientation activities now ride the route as part of the freshman seminar class.

Some 68 percent of students polled in the recent survey indicated they only use the Kirkhof Campus stop in Allendale and Pew Campus stop downtown, so it appears they're primarily shuttling between classes. But if it's jobs, nightlife or shopping they're after, The Rapid offers them access to those types of destinations as well.

Last September, ITP extended Friday night service on the campus connector by three hours, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., and added new Saturday service to downtown, the Jenison Meijer store and RiverTown Crossings Mall.

GVSU's Student Life office sought the extended service to broaden the cultural, entertainment and recreational opportunities available to students, Haynes said. There could be a couple of other reasons more students are warming up to riding the bus.

Some 52 percent of students responding to the December survey rated their bus driver's attitude as "good" and 31 percent rated it as "excellent." As to the quality of the campus connector service, nearly 52 percent rated it "good" and 39 percent rated it "excellent."

Due the success of their partnership, ITP and GVSU have been invited to speak at the American Public Transportation Association's national Transportation and University Communities Conference at the University of Massachusetts in June, Soukup noted. The two organizations will be discussing how their partnership evolved, the joint marketing efforts they've undertaken, and how the partnership is working to meet students' needs.

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