Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 8, 2012

Editorial: Bus service a real alternative


---- — The news may have gotten a bit lost in the run up to the election that wouldn't end. But for Benzie County residents the effects will linger long after the campaign slogans are forgotten.

Benzie Bus and the Bay Area Transportation Authority have formed a partnership to connect passengers between the two bus systems at Ric's Food Center in Interlochen at U.S. 31 and M-137.

The connection, launched a week ago, will offer five different bus rides a day from Benzie County to Traverse City, two more than previously offered.

The two bus services also said they're changing to direct routes, meaning buses will stop at the same places 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.

This is the same kind of transition BATA has been going through on its service in and around Traverse City. A few years ago the majority of rides were originated by a dial-a-ride-style service, which could take seemingly forever. Riders could not rely on that service to commute to work, for instance, since schedules were more suggestions than promises.

"(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."

Knowing where and when the bus will pick you up and where and when it will drop you off is a huge upgrade in service.

"This makes public transit a more usable tool," said BATA executive director Tom Menzel, and attractive to "a variety of new demographics."

The new direct routes are part of a long-term strategy to create a more regional public transit system. BATA started a similar connector stop in Buckley last year that linked Wexford County to Traverse City on a direct route. It is also exploring a connector in Acme to link to riders in Kalkaska and Antrim counties.

The new Benzie-Traverse City routes will be $3 each way with free transfers, which a BATA executive said was a "pretty good deal" on a ride from Frankfort to Traverse City.

A formal kick-off for the new service will take place Monday.