Are Business Owners Blind To Transit Issue

June 30, 2003
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Business, where are you? When it comes to public transportation issues, your seat at the discussion table is often empty, and that is disconcerting given that 58 percent of The Rapid’s passengers are aboard to get to or from work.

ITP Board member Win Irwin, president of Irwin Seating, has driven home that message in board meeting after board meeting: 58 percent of riders use The Rapid to get to or from work or both.

Over the past few months, the Interurban Transit Partnership board has grappled with The Rapid’s $875,000 budget deficit, approved hikes in passenger fares and decided to seek voter approval in November for a 0.20 millage increase that would raise the millage for the transit system to 0.95 mills. The rate hikes and millage question were hotly debated issues among board members and members of the public.

Large turnouts at those earlier meetings represented the disabled, the elderly, the environmentally friendly, the clergy, and almost every local service organization devoted to assisting the indigent, underprivileged or health challenged. They were a very vocal and passionate group. They clearly articulated their transportation needs and implored the board to “take the next step” and expand service.

To the Business Journal’s knowledge, the only business represented at those hearings was Cascade Engineering, in the person of Ron Jimmerson, manager of work force diversity and community partnerships.

That’s no surprise. Cascade Engineering President Fred Keller is well known for his innovative business initiatives. He was recognized for just that with a 2002 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Jimmerson told the ITP board recently that many of the company’s employees come from the inner city. His company has worked closely with The Rapid to solve worker transportation issues. A couple of years ago, the firm successfully petitioned for the extension of The Rapid’s Route 5 to serve businesses in the industrial park area between 33rd and 36th streets and Kraft and Patterson avenues in Cascade Township.

Earlier this month The Rapid launched its “Great Transit, Grand Tomorrows” (GT2) study, designed to gather public input on where the transit system should concentrate future expansion and what transit modes would likely be best suited for each of the metro area’s 10 primary corridors, as identified by current ridership levels, current and projected population and employment levels and the location of activity centers.

The goal is to achieve a balanced, affordable and cost-effective transportation system that offers a host of travel choices and access to transit throughout the metro area.

GT2 study team members and consultants DMJM + Harris presented and discussed the details and scope of the study at public forums held June 5, 9 and 10 in Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Walker, respectively.

While six business community members serve on the public transportation task force, there has as yet been no public comment from the business community regarding the mass transit issues.

Every company likes good PR. Ensuring that employees have a means to get to and from their jobs is not just a nice thing for an employer to do; it also curbs employer-related costs for absenteeism.

Business has a hand in shaping the future of public transit in greater Grand Rapids. Business owners need to get to the table. The next forums are in late summer or early fall and early next year.   

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