Seven Transit Modes Considered

June 27, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — What should the region's public transit system look like 10 or 12 years down the road?

That's a question the Interurban Transit Partnership would like residents of greater Grand Rapids to help answer.

The Rapid's "Great Transit, Grand Tomorrows" (GT2) study launched earlier this month is designed to gather public input on future expansion of the transit system and to determine which transit modes would be best suited for eight preliminary corridors, as identified by current ridership levels, current and projected population and employment levels and the location of activity centers.

Last week, the Public Transportation Tomorrow (PTT) Task Force recommended that two additional corridors — an East Belt Corridor and a 44th Street Corridor — be evaluated in the first round of analysis along with the eight corridors initially identified.

The PTT Task Force also recommended that, for purposes of the study, the East Corridor that runs from downtown Grand Rapids to East Grand Rapids be extended further east into Ada Township.

With the exception of the East Belt and 44th Street corridors, all corridors under study intersect in downtown Grand Rapids.

The study area goes beyond the six-city area currently served by The Rapid bus system.

Jim Fetzer, director of development for the transit system, said the study area is defined by what is called the federal urban aid boundaries — the area that's expected to be urbanized within the next 20 years.

It extends to Rockford to the north, Byron and Gaines townships to the south, Allendale Township to the west and Cascade and Ada townships to the east.

It also extends southwest to Hudsonville and further into Ottawa County.

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

The Rapid is undertaking the study, along with consultants DMJM+Harris. They held the first public forums on the GT2 study earlier this month at three different locations in and around Grand Rapids.

The Federal Transit Administration, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Wege Foundation and the Urban Cooperation Board are underwriting the GT2 study. 

Mary Taylor Raulerson, project manager for DMJM+Harris, said that certain modes might be a better fit for certain corridors, but all modes would feed into one another.

Although 12 transit modes were presented and discussed at the initial forums, the PTT Task Force has since dropped five from consideration.

No longer under consideration are Automated Guideway Transit, Monorail, MagLev (magnetic levitation) and Personal Rapid Transit, which were eliminated due to their "unreasonable" cost and the fact that they are unproven technologies in terms of passenger service, Raulerson said.

Heavy rail was eliminated from further consideration because of its high capital investment and operational costs. A heavy rail system costs an estimated $145 million to $230 million a mile to construct and $700 to $1,500 per train hour to operate.

Below are the seven remaining transit modes being evaluated in the first tier of analysis and the related costs of each.

Cost estimates were culled from a variety of sources, including the Transit Bus Manufacturers, FTA New Starts Reports and the Grand Rapids 2001 NTD Report, as well as estimates supplied by existing transit systems in cities across the United States.

Mode: Local Bus

Description: The Rapid's current bus system.

Capital cost estimate: $200,000 to $300,000 per bus

Operating cost: $50-$60 per bus hour

Mode: Enhanced Bus

Description: Similar to local bus service, but with enhancements such as fewer stops and real time display of bus arrival times.

Capital cost estimate: $200,000 to $300,000 per bus, plus $1 million to $5 million per mile

Operational cost estimate: $60-$70 per bus hour

Mode: Express Bus

Description: Bus service that runs long distances with few stops, with buses typically traveling on freeways from suburban park-and-ride lots to the central business district.

Capital cost estimate: $300,000 to $500,000 per bus

Operational cost estimate: $50-$60 per bus hour

Mode: Bus Rapid Transit

Description: Bus Rapid Transit operates much like light rail but without tracks or overhead wires. Buses use exclusive lanes, either on the street or in separate right-of-way, and stop only at stations typically spaced about one mile apart.

Capital cost estimate: $7 million to $27 million per mile

Operational cost estimate: $70-$100 per bus hour

Mode: Light Rail Transit

Description: Modern rail transit powered by overhead electric wire that operates as single cars or short trains, usually in exclusive lanes either on the street or in separate right-of-way. Stations are typically located one mile apart but may be closer in the central business district.

Capital cost estimate: $20 million to $60 million per mile

Operational cost estimate: $250-$350 per train hour

Mode: Streetcar Transit

Description: A lower-profile version of light rail that operates on the street, usually sharing lanes with other vehicles. Streetcars stop frequently and usually operate singly, but short trains are possible.

Capital cost estimate: $5 million to $40 million per mile

Operational cost estimate: $80-$150 per car hour

Mode: Commuter Rail

Description: Trains or individual rail cars operating on existing freight railroad tracks or alignments, typically serving long-distance work trips between large central cities and outlying areas. Stations are usually spaced three to seven miles apart.

Capital cost estimate: $1 million to $18 million per mile

Operational cost estimate: $1,300-$2,500 per train hour

Additional public forums are to be held in either late summer or early fall and the first part of next year. To find out more about the study or to register a comment, visit or call the "GT2" hotline at (616) 774-1298.   

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