Kent Countys transit needs revealed

June 3, 2011
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Kent County commissioners will learn this week what members of the Grand Valley Metro Council found out last week regarding the county’s transit needs.

Kevin Mischler, a senior executive with transportation consultant RLS & Associates of Dayton, Ohio, revealed the preliminary findings last week of a transit-needs study his firm conducted at the request of the council. Mischler said the study’s top priority was to expand the demand response service with GO! Bus, create a countywide commuter express service during peak travel times to and from downtown Grand Rapids, and extend The Rapid’s current bus routes.

“It really is a patchwork of services that exist in Kent County,” said Mischler. “People travel on a regional basis, not a local one, and that is certainly an unmet need.”

Mischler also said a countywide millage would be needed to provide enough funds to meet operating costs and capital needs. He suggested a millage of 0.000427 mills for operations and 0.000175 mills for buses, shuttles and stations to meet those costs in 2013. The current transit millage only affects property owners in six of the county’s 30 municipalities, and Mischler felt everyone needs to pitch in.

“The benefits would be across the board, regardless of where you live,” he said. “We want to make sure there is enough funding for both capital and operations. You can’t count on state and federal money, either on the operating side or on the capital side.”

Mischler called the report he gave a draft and said he was putting together a finalized version. But he added that the study had a lot of input from the general public, local public officials and interested parties such as employers in the county.

The study also consisted of a random telephone survey of 1,000 county residents who were asked if they would use public transportation if it were available to them. The results showed that 39 percent of the respondents said they would be somewhat or very likely to use it, while 60 percent reported they would be somewhat or very unlikely to get on board. One percent said they weren’t sure.

According to his report, the size of a countywide transit market for those not currently being served is 15,500 for a demand-response service, 12,900 for a fixed-route service, and 1,730 for a commuter express service. Mischler said the market would grow in coming years as county residents reach 65 years of age. He said that older group will number more than 38,000 by 2020.

Mischler also said that most of the public doesn’t understand the county’s transit system because it has multiple providers such as ITP, Hope Network and the North Kent Transit Service.

“An important part of this is marketing and communications,” he said. “We’re recommending that you set up a mobility manager.”

The study began with the selection of RLS as the consultant in December 2009 and cost $223,685 to conduct. The Metro Council was joined by ITP and Kent County in putting the study together. Grand Rapids Township Supervisor Michael DeVries chaired a taskforce that contributed to the process and Andrea Dewey, a transportation planner with the council, coordinated the work.

“At times, it was like herding cats,” said GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula of Dewey’s effort.

County commissioners will hear from Mischler Thursday.

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