Economic Development, Government, and Travel & Tourism

Taking a ride on the Silver Line

State’s first express bus route is scheduled to debut in August.

May 30, 2014
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Taking a ride on the Silver Line
The Rapid is expecting 10 new Silver Line buses that will be modeled in appearance after this one. Courtesy ITP

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The new bus rapid transit line, known as the Silver Line, will be rolling into downtown Grand Rapids before summer’s end.

Construction is coming to an end on the 34 stations this month, and 10 buses are being purchased to serve the route. Training will begin in July for bus drivers and other personnel to make sure everything is ready when the Silver Line starts rolling Aug. 25.

Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, said the project will come in under budget. “The question is how much ahead will we be at the end of the day? But we will be ahead of budget,” he said.

The BRT line is a $39 million project that began in April 2013 after a decade of planning. It will run from 60th Street in Gaines Township to Bostwick Avenue NE in downtown Grand Rapids and back, largely moving along Division Avenue.

Silver Line project manager Conrad Venema highlighted some of the benefits riders can expect from the line and its stations, including real time arrival signs, a heated platform with electric snow melt, security features and an emergency phone.

“It’s going to have all the elements of a light rail station,” Venema said. “It’s got elevated platforms, so that means it’s level boarding. There will be ticket machines at the platform — it’s all prepay.”

That means passenger loading will be streamlined along the route.

“There are a lot of elements within the system that make it more efficient, particularly when boarding, than on our current fixed route,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager at The Rapid. “There won’t be a line of people digging in their pockets to try and come up with change.”

The fare structure will be the same for the Silver Line as it is for the rest of The Rapid’s bus system, so riders will have a seamless experience.

The Silver Line’s operating schedule is not completed yet, but it is expected to run every 10 minutes during peak times, every 20 minutes during off-peak times, and about every 40 minutes later in the evenings, according to Venema.

The Silver Line also has signal priority to help keep the buses moving and on schedule.

Venema said there would be a learning curve for drivers, especially given that this is the first BRT line in the state.

“It’s the first BRT in Michigan and pretty much the first dedicated lane in Michigan, as far as I know,” he said. “People are going to have to get used to it.”

The Rapid will work to educate drivers on how to coexist with the new bus route and its dedicated lanes.

Annual operating costs are unknown at this point and will be dependent on several factors, including the final schedule, number of drivers hired, fuel costs and insurance.

The Division Avenue route was chosen in part because of its “high farebox recovery ratio,” which refers to the percentage of operating expenses met by passenger fares. For the Division route, it is about 40 percent, reflecting its high ridership.

Venema said that, down the road, The Rapid might consider using advertising at the bus stations to raise additional revenue.

“There won’t be anything on the Silver Line vehicles themselves. You won’t see the side runner,” he said. “As for station advertising, we would love to, but right now city ordinances prevent us from doing advertising. That would be an excellent revenue source for us.

“As you’ve seen in Chicago, they have advertising on their shelters and it offsets some of their operational costs, and it’s not tax dollars.”

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