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April 10, 2013

BATA riders applaud new changes

TRAVERSE CITY — Riding a public bus is sometimes a challenge for disabled students who have jobs in Traverse City.

Some get out of work at 1 p.m., but have to wait until 4:30 p.m. to get a ride home to out-county areas, said Marlene Plane, who works at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Career Tech Center.

“Our students are kind of used to that,” Plane said. “Some will enjoy the time, and some find it’s pretty difficult.”

Plane spoke of the bus waits at a packed meeting recently held at the Disability Network Northern Michigan offices, where riders and their advocates met with two Bay Area Transportation Authority bus officials.

BATA announced significant changes to limit waits to 15 minutes and promised to be more responsive.

“We know that we have not been easy to do business with in the past,” said Carrie Thompson, business development director. “We want to make it easier for existing riders and attract new riders.”

The buses are getting repainted with jazzy logos and new names to help riders understand the system. Dial-a-ride and zone services will be called “city link” or “village link” buses. They’ll connect to dedicated routes called “city loops” and “village loops.”

In early May, the bus system will double the frequency of village loop routes to Kingsley, Empire, Northport, Suttons Bay, Interlochen and Williamsburg to every hour. But buses will leave every two hours in mid-day when ridership is low, Thompson said.

Village loop riders generally will be able transfer to another bus without first coming to the Hall Street station. That will shorten rides, save BATA an estimated 55,000 miles annually, ease in-town bus congestion, and allow BATA to offer village loop rides on weekends. BATA will also extend weeknight hours to 9 p.m., Thompson said.

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