TRAVERSE CITY — James Burke knows there always are bugs to work out of anything new.
That’s why the Fife Lake musician and house painter says he’ll remain patient with Bay Area Transportation Authority’s new bus service model. He should be an ideal passenger for the new system — which saves him a three-mile walk to the bus station — but he’s experienced longer waits for his ride to his Traverse City music gigs and painting jobs.
“It’s let me down a couple times already, but it’s come through a couple times,” he said.
BATA passengers and employees alike are still adjusting to the new “Link and Loop” bus service started three weeks ago. It expanded fixed routes — “loops” — and provides passengers in outlying areas a more chances to “link” to them.
Change hasn’t always gone smoothly, and many passengers are confused or dissatisfied with the new system.
Executive Director Tom Menzel said BATA received 1,100 calls from confused passengers on Link and Loop’s first day. He said operators spent an average of 16 minutes on each call.
“We had a backlog of calls we felt badly about,” Menzel said. “It took about week-and-a-half to get done. The end of this week has been much smoother as dealt with issues.”
Menzel said the new service model has been a “massive undertaking” that took three years to put in place.
“From a perspective that we’re doing something that hasn’t been done in a public sector entity before, it’s gone well,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s been flawless.”
Tower Hill Adult Foster Care sits up a hill off M-72. Its patients effectively were marooned when buses stopped driving up the hill after the service change.
“They weren’t able to access the community without BATA,” said Patty Poertner, a direct caregiver. “It was unsafe for them to go down the hill.”
Poertner said BATA reversed course and now comes back up the hill. She is a daily passenger herself from Grawn to Traverse City and said the new system means longer rides and more transfers at stops without shelter from weather.
Menzel said BATA was making adjustments and fixing “glitches.”
“If we didn’t improve our system we were locked into a market niche that would keep us from ever growing,” he said. “We changed the system to have more fixed routes and more options for people to use it. We also started weekend service and working later at night.”
Kelly Yaroch, the agency’s human resources and operations director, said BATA is looking to expand services in the Suttons Bay area in the coming months.
Burke said many of his fellow passengers are “up in arms” with the changes — he’s even heard rumblings about petitions — but he’s staying patient.
“Whenever anything is new it takes time for people to get used to it,” he said.