Health Care and Travel & Tourism

Transit service may end in Walker

August 19, 2012
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The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance reported last week that it helped Walker residents collect more than 1,700 signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that could potentially remove the city from the Interurban Transit Partnership.

The ITP is made up of six cities in Kent County, including Walker, and has operated the public transit system known as The Rapid for the past dozen years. Residents in the six cities pay an annual millage through their property taxes to support the system financially.

Walker residents, though, have historically voted against the system’s millage requests, including the one last year that renewed basic funding and authorized new funding for The Rapid’s new Silver Line express route that will run from 60th Street along Division Avenue to downtown Grand Rapids.

Although that millage was approved by 140 votes across the six cities, Walker voters overwhelming rejected it. Nearly 70 percent of the city’s 1,365 votes cast in the May 2011 election opposed the ballot request. The election’s outcome added 0.35 mills for seven years to The Rapid’s 1.41 mills; the resulting property-tax revenue is $14.7 million this fiscal year.

According to KCTA, Walker voters didn’t want to pay for an express service that doesn’t run through its city. KCTA also reported a door-to-door campaign revealed Walker residents were unhappy with the service and wanted other transit options.

“We are very excited that our ballot-initiative campaign, in conjunction with Walker residents of the WalkerYes campaign, were able to turn in more than the minimum number of signatures needed to put this measure on the ballot,” said KCTA spokesman Eric Larson in a statement.

“The people of Walker will now be able to vote for the first time on whether they want to be a part of The Rapid or choose other options for their transportation needs.”

Not every Walker resident favors the initiative. “The more people learn about The Rapid, the more they realize the value,” said Barb Holt, a Walker city commissioner who has represented the city’s Second Ward since 1995 and is the current Mayor Pro Tem and chairwoman of The Rapid board, in a statement. “Surveys consistently show that over 70 percent of people use The Rapid to get to work. That number was 80 percent in the most recent survey.”

Ridership for The Rapid is expected to top 11.5 million trips this year.

“Our job remains to provide efficient and effective service in the six-city region and beyond, as evidenced by the 162 percent increase in ridership since 2000,” said CEO Peter Varga when asked about the petition drive.

East Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids, Grandville, Kentwood and Wyoming are the other cities that comprise the ITP and are served by The Rapid. The system offers at least three routes to Walker. The Walker city clerk has verified the petition has enough signatures to go before voters Nov. 6. Walker city commissioners, though, still have to approve to proposal’s language to put the measure on the ballot.

“If voters chose to exit The Rapid in November, the remainder of the property tax renewal will have to expire and then city leaders can search for more efficient ways to provide services,” said Larson.

A similar KCTA petition drive in Grandville fell short of the necessary votes to put the question on the ballot there.

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