Transit Sees Rapid Gain

November 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Rapid made a recent stop at the county building to unload its annual report, and county commissioners seemed pleased to learn the public transit system raised its ridership without doing the same to its costs and that transit officials were looking at expanding service into more townships.

“A lot of commissioners are very interested in The Rapid,” said Roger Morgan, board chairman.

Jennifer Kalczuk of The Rapid told commissioners the system had 7.4 million rides in 2006, up from 6.4 million the previous year and double the number from 1996.

“That represents almost an increase of one million rides (over 2005) and that represents a new record,” she said.

Weekday ridership was up by 14.8 percent on its 19 fixed routes, weekday evening was up by 23 percent, Saturday by 21.5 percent and Sunday by 13.6 percent. But the biggest percentage gain came from the ties The Rapid has with Grand Valley State University, as the ridership among the school’s students rose by 32.8 percent.

Kalczuk credited the increase to higher gas prices and a struggling economy, new kiosks with complete bus schedules at various stops, and a more convenient and efficient Central Station. She said the ability for riders to buy tickets online also played a role, especially for seniors that use the Go Bus.

“I think that’s great. You’re increasing ridership without increasing the subsidy,” said Commissioner David Morren.

Kalczuk also said an overwhelming number of voters — who approved a dedicated transit millage in six cities a few years ago — and riders had positive perceptions of the service. She said recent surveys of both revealed that 83 percent of voters and 86 percent of riders rated The Rapid’s service as “good” or “very good.”

But Commissioner James Vaughn, who represents a Grand Rapids district on the county board, told Kalczuk that some residents have said they can’t use The Rapid to get to work. Kalczuk said township officials have to contract for service if their municipality is outside of the millage area, like Cascade Township has done.

Kalczuk said employers in the township, such as Cascade Engineering, asked officials to add bus service there and officials complied. She said the Interurban Transit Partnership, which operates The Rapid, has been in contact with townships not being served by the system.

“The townships are allowed to decide the amount of service they want,” said Kalczuk. “We have been meeting with the townships and the rural areas, and they have indicated they want more service.”

Commissioner Dan Koorndyk asked Kalczuk have much money the county’s downtown development authorities capture each year from the transit millage. Kalczuk said she didn’t know the amount. But she added that Kentwood and East Grand Rapids don’t have a DDA, and the DDAs in Wyoming, Walker, Grandville and Grand Rapids have supported the transit system.

“The Grand Rapids one has been very aggressive in turning over that money (to ITP),” she said of the DDA’s millage capture. “They helped build Central Station.”    

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