November 18, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — What a difference six years has made.

Back then, Parking Services had to offer free rides just to entice downtown workers and visitors to try the DASH park-and-ride shuttle service. But this year, it's tougher to buy a seat on a DASH bus than it is to most concerts.

"In 1999, we were giving away DASH spaces. Today, we're 99.9 percent full," said Pam Ritsema, parking services director.

DASH made its first run in May 1998 with eight periwinkle blue shuttles and two routes: DASH West and DASH South. The shuttles are still periwinkle blue, but the buses now total 11 — with new, improved versions due any day. And a route has been added since DASH made its first trip through downtown.

DASH to the Hill is a partnership between Grand Valley State University, The Rapid and Parking Services that loops through downtown from the GVSU Pew Campus to the university's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences.

"We're as efficient as we can be," Ritsema said of the system, which has an operating budget of $600,000.

Each of the 1,500 monthly spaces in the DASH West lots was sold as of last month. Only 54 monthly spaces were available in October on a monthly basis in the DASH South lots, which offer 469 parking spots.

What this means is that more workers and students are active downtown today than six years ago. In fact, economic activity in the central business district has risen greatly just in the last three years, when monthly parking is factored into the analysis.

In October 2002, there were 5,768 monthly parkers in the city's downtown system. But last month there were 6,482, for a three-year gain of 12.4 percent.

Thirteen of the city's 21 ramps and lots were full last month and weren't accepting any new monthly parkers. And for three that had monthly parking available, each had fewer than 20 spaces to lease. Overall, only 548 monthly spaces were available in the system; 356 of those were in the Ottawa Fulton ramp and the Government Center ramp beneath Calder Plaza.    

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