The Rapid sets ride record expansion of ITP facility to begin

August 4, 2009
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While auto sales may be down, bus ridership is up.

The Rapid CEO Peter Varga told county commissioners recently that his transit service is on pace to top the 10-million ride mark before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Reaching that plateau would be a first for the public system and would mean an increase of more than 1 million riders over last year when The Rapid topped 9 million for the first time.

Varga also noted ridership has doubled since 2004 and people going to and from work were what led the increase. "The primary reason is work related," he said.

But one work-related transit service is likely to come to a halt down the road. Varga said the County Connection, a pilot program in its second year, will likely lose its funding in fiscal year 2011. Grants from Job Access and Reverse Commute along with state funds provided the fuel for the county-wide, on-demand service that has been used rather extensively by Department of Human Services' clients as a means to get to work.

Varga said the service made 35,952 trips in 2008. "We will run out of money," he said. "Most of the trips are subsidized." The service has a budget of $450,000 a year. A one-way, non-subsidized trip costs a rider $14.

Varga also said work on the $35 million expansion of the Interurban Transit Partnership Wealthy Street operations facility will get started in December, roughly two years earlier than first thought. The project, expected to take two years to complete, received a $10.6-million stimulus from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is allowing work to begin late this year. The expansion is needed because ITP has 174 buses and can only store 106 on its current footprint.

The Christman Co. is the general contractor. Progressive AE designed the expansion, which will be LEED certified and will include the recycling center property at 322 Bartlett St. SW that ITP bought in June from Kent County. The county Department of Public Works is building a larger and more efficient recycling facility at 977 Wealthy St. SW. ITP purchased the site for $960,000, less than what DPW paid for it.

"You had a plan. We had a plan, and we're very grateful for that," Varga told county commissioners. "In the end, we will save more operating money."

Varga indicated that ITP will ask voters again to approve a millage for the Silver Line, a rapid transit service that would run along Division Avenue from 60th Street to downtown, and may do so as early as next year. Earlier this year, voters defeated the proposal, and without a millage in place, ITP can't capture the $40 million in federal and state funds that would build the 10-mile route.

"Failure sometimes allows you the opportunity to learn," said Varga. "We believe the project is going to meet the growth for jobs and population. All the high employment areas are covered. It would promote the transit use of land."

Varga said the Silver Line would create 405 permanent jobs worth $14.9 million in annual wages and have a 400 percent return on investment. The Grand Valley Metro Council has captured a couple of federal grants to analyze the environmental condition of properties along the route with the idea of making the parcels available for development.

"The feds insisted that we move this project along. They've committed to the project. Our problem is, the public isn't committed," said Varga. "At some point next year, I expect this question might come before the public."

Riding high

The Rapid, the public bus service of the Interurban Transit Partnership, is expected to surpass 10 million rides this fiscal year for the first time in the system's history.

Fiscal Year
2009*
2008
2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000

    Number of Rides
10,091,000
9,081,282
8,164,975
7,453,884
6,479,487
5,670,030
5,811,424
5,590,124
5,208,551
4,172,367

    Percent Change
+11.1%
+11.2%
+9.5%
+15.0%
+14.3%
-2.4%
+3.9%
+7.3%
+24.8%
---------

*Projection

Note: Fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Source: Interurban Transit Partnership, July 2009

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