TRAVERSE CITY — Congressman Dan Benishek supports efforts to continue the Bay Area Transportation Authority bus routes used by many Suttons Bay Public Schools students.
BATA’s Suttons Bay “flex routes,” used by hundred of students to get to and from Suttons Bay classrooms, have saved the district roughly $1 million in transportation costs since 2010, allowing the district to retain teachers and keep class sizes from inflating.
But the Federal Transit Administration last month ordered BATA to cease the routes because they violate federal regulations intended to prevent unfair competition between private school bus operators and federally subsidized public transit agencies.
Benishek, an Iron River Republican who represents Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, including the Grand Traverse Region, said he understands why community members have expressed frustration over the FTA order.
”We just hate to see the feds come in and shut down a program that is working,” he said.
BATA officials will not pursue a costly legal appeal of the FTA order. Instead they want to change several aspects of the flex routes in an effort to comply with regulations.
BATA’s plans include connecting the flex routes with the Suttons Bay Village Loop route, an hourly loop that will be launched next month as part of BATA’s new operational model, and adding bus signs with route information at flex route stops. Both changes are part of an effort to ensure the flex routes serve all members of the public — not just students — as required by regulations.
The proposed changes will be outlined in a letter and sent to the FTA. Benishek plans to send an accompanying letter of support to the FTA.
FTA officials refused to discuss the ruling on the record, a fact that didn’t surprise Benishek.
”That’s the whole problem with the federal government,” Benishek said. “You can’t get an answer out of them when you need one.”