BY GLENN PUIT
INTERLOCHEN — Commuters who travel from Benzie County to Traverse City just picked up a couple more options to get back and forth.
On Thursday, officials with Benzie Bus and Bay Area Transportation Authority said they'd formed a partnership to swap, or connect, passengers between the two bus systems at Ric's Food Center in Interlochen.
The connection takes to the road Nov. 1 and will allow for five different bus rides a day coming from Benzie County to Traverse City, two more than previously offered.
"This makes public transit a more usable tool," said Tom Menzel, executive director of BATA. "It will allow us to meet the rides of a variety of new demographics."
Perhaps just as important, the agencies said they are changing the way they run bus routes that connect Benzie County and Traverse City. The bus routes are now direct routes, meaning they stop at the same places each time along a specific route.
Previously, buses went door-to-door on meandering and varying routes, making bus rides longer, less convenient, and turning the bus into what amounted to a personal taxi service for people who book a ride, officials said.
"(The bus rides) are going to get faster for people here locally," said Kelly Thayer, chairman of the Benzie Bus Board of Directors. "It will be our first true fixed-route service, with our first timed stops, and no varying from the route. It will save riders 10 to 15 minutes to Interlochen."
Sandra Ramey rides the bus every day from the Benzonia area to her job in Acme. She said she likes parts of the new system, though not others. She will have to get on the bus 40 minutes earlier every morning, she said, but if she needed to get home sooner she could do so because of expanded services.
"That's the plus to it," Ramey said.
Carrie Thompson, BATA's business development director, said the new direct routes are part of a long-term strategy to target a more regional public transit system. BATA started a similar connector stop in Buckley last year that linked commuters from Wexford County to Traverse City on a direct route.
The agency also is exploring a connector in Acme, which would link bus riders in Kalkaska and Antrim counties.
Thompson said the new routes will be $3 each way with free transfers, and noted that when you drive from Frankfort to Traverse City, "that's a pretty good deal."
The new service starts Nov. 1, said Susan Miller, executive director of Benzie Bus. A formal kick-off will take place Nov. 12.