Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — It hasn’t happened overnight, and there are miles to go, but the Bay Area Transportation Authority has made a series of changes over the years that have significantly improved service.
There are more changes coming, including some relatively high-tech improvements that should make waiting more comfortable and the system more predictable.
Northwest Lower Michigan isn’t yet a public transit kind of place and may never be - too few people and too many square miles. But BATA and the Benzie Bus services have created viable alternatives that have become a life link for a lot of people.
A couple BATA officials recently told disabled students and advocates at the Disability Network Northern Michigan that BATA is committed to schedule improvements. The service promised to limit waits to 15 minutes and be more responsive.
“We want to make it easier for existing riders and attract new riders,” said Carrie Thompson, business development director.
Buses are getting new 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, every two hours during the low-ridership midday hours.
Village loop riders will likely be able to transfer to another bus without first coming into Traverse City. The change should shorten rides, allow BATA to save 55,000 miles per year and offer village loop rides on weekends.
The service will also extend weeknight hours to 9 p.m., a major change that will make riding the bus more practical for those who can’t be sure they’ll be out of work by 6 p.m.
And a “real” person with a cell phone has begun answering calls outside of dispatch hours.
Thompson said BATA also promises cleaner bus shelters with solar-powered lights, route maps and more shelters.
BATA’s web site will get a redo and a web site trip finder will be available in June. A goal is to have an application for portable devices that will let riders scan a code and see where the bus is on the route they’re waiting for.
This is big stuff. Lighted shelters, shorter waits, after-hours contact with dispatch and a way to track your bus all make riding more predicable and useful. Raising riders’ comfort level has been a key to BATA’s years of improvement, and it is continuing.