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I believe in growing, vibrant, inclusive communities and I believe in public transportation because the two go hand in hand. At its core, public transportation is all about equal community access for all of us. It is perhaps where the “rubber hits the road,” so to speak, in making our communities open, accessible and inclusive for all of us. That is why I am asking you to join with me in supporting the May 3 transit millage.
One of my favorite quotes about leadership speaks to the notion that true leaders plant trees under whose shade they know they will never stand. In my tenure as the mayor of East Grand Rapids, I have spoken often about what I call visionary leadership — leadership that is mindful of where we have been, but at the same time never loses sight of where it is we, as a community, want to go, what we want to achieve, and what we envision our community becoming. Visionary leaders paint that picture but also provide a clear road map of how to get there.
An efficient, reliable mass transit system is unquestionably a key part of linking all of us into that vision. Whether you ride the bus or not, you are impacted every day in a positive way because it is there. Riders took over 9.7 million bus rides last year and 75 percent of those riding our buses were doing so to get to work. Our community needs the involvement and contributions of all of us and public transportation provides that opportunity. Expansion of the hours and frequency of these bus routes made possible through this millage request also expands the employment opportunities for those who depend on mass transit to get to work.
In addition, about 3 million rides were taken last year by GVSU students and people using the DASH service. These are our children, using our public transportation system to get to school. Three of them are my sons, who frequently utilize this service. As a mother, I am relieved to know that they are riding buses instead of driving Lake Michigan Drive daily. GVSU pays for these services but it is our entire community that derives the benefit. Less vehicular traffic pays back in less congestion, less environmental impact and safe travel for students, to name a few. In addition, our children are becoming familiar consumers of alternative transportation options and will be more open to using public transportation in the future.
Every month, 35,000 GO!Bus trips are taken. This service provides the means for people to travel independently and gain access to vital community services that would otherwise be very difficult for them.
We should all be proud of the public transportation system that together we have built. The Rapid was honored by the American Public Transportation Association as the outstanding system in its class. It continues to be among the most cost-effective and efficient systems among its peers. And for a modest increase, we can build on those successes and expand services that will further support future development, economic recovery and community accessibility.
Together as a community we build schools, libraries, museums, entertainment venues and health care facilities. We subsidize these endeavors because we realize that they are sound investments in the future of our community: a future that will be just as strong and vibrant as our resolve to make it so; a future that requires the contributions and involvement of all of its citizens. We have a vision for what that future looks like and with our continued support for public transportation we also will have a way for all of us to get there.
I am proud to stand with the mayors from all six core cities in support of the May 3 transit millage. I ask you to not only stand with us but to more importantly vote YES with us and proudly enjoy the ride to a future that is growing, vibrant and includes all of us.
Cindy Bartman is the mayor of East Grand Rapids.