TRAVERSE CITY — Virginia Ruiz has no driver’s license and relied on buses for decades. But she’s given up on the new Bay Area Transportation Authority bus service model — at least for now.
“I only tried it once, and that was enough,” she said.
Ruiz, 90, was used to BATA’s dial-a-ride service, which picked her up at her apartment off Cherry Bend Road in Leelanau County and took her directly to her destination. She just needed to schedule the ride ahead of time.
BATA’s new model eliminates that door-to-door service. Now “Link” buses, scheduled ahead of time, pick up riders from their homes and drop them off at transfer stops. Riders are then picked up by fixed-route “Loop” buses. Sometimes riders have to transfer buses again before reaching their destination, depending on the route. The changes will eliminate an estimated 55,000 bus miles annually, but the elderly and disabled can find the transfers challenging.
Ruiz said she was dropped off at a transfer stop on M-22, where she waited an estimated 15 minutes for a Loop bus to come along.
“It was supposed to be five minutes, but it was a long five minutes,” she said. “There was no place to sit down, not a tree around. Just a big rock. I have pain if I stand any length of time.”
Her June 13 bus ride to the grocery store took 1 ½ hours instead of the usual 20-minute dial-a-ride, she said.
Tom Menzel, BATA’s executive director, said BATA can’t efficiently run a door-to-door service.
“We are a public transit. We are not a cab service, and for years many people have used us like that,” he said.
As for providing benches for waiting riders, Menzel said 16 grant-funded shelters will be installed in September. It’s too expensive to buy benches before then, he said.
Ruiz also said her route made no sense. The bus turned left on M-22 and took her to a transfer stop about eight miles north, instead of turning right to Traverse City, just a few miles away.
Menzel promised to investigate.
“That’s something that needs to be looked into, and that’s how it gets better,” Menzel said.
BATA passengers and employees alike are adjusting to the new “Link and Loop” bus services. Menzel pointed out that the new system has brought many positive changes, such as earlier and later bus runs, more frequent runs in rural areas, and a new weekend service.
Those who bike or walk the Leelanau Trail on weekends are particularly thrilled.
“We’re so happy,” said Lee Kurt, TART Trails, Inc.’s trail planning and program director. “Weekends are when the (Leelanau) trail is busiest, so it really complements the need nicely. The new Bike-n-Ride bus can hold 14 bikes, tandems, Burley (bicycle) trailers, everything in between.”
Menzel said BATA’s next level of change will give disabled riders a priority for the modified dial-a-ride pick-up. The “noise level” of complaints, he said, has been low and ridership has remained relatively stable. People need to appreciate the enormity of BATA’s changes, he said.
“It’s something you could write a book on. It’s never been done before,” he said. “There are going to be some adjustments. Now the passengers have to take on some responsibility so we can meet the needs of everybody.”
Ruiz rents an apartment that is connected to the home of Greg and Ingrid Zotter, and now asks them for a ride into town.
“It makes me feel bad. I don’t like to beg,” she said. “I feel like I’m a bother.”
Ingrid reassured Ruiz that she isn’t a bother, but acknowledged her frustration.
“I work with the elderly, and I know how it’s terribly important to be independent,” she said.