Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 2, 2014

Three-strikes riders booted from buses

BY MICHELLE MERLIN
mmerlin@record-eagle.com

— TRAVERSE CITY — Ryan Volz describes himself as avid rider of Bay Area Transportation Authority’s buses since 2000.

But now he faces a month-long suspension from the dial-a-ride service, and Volz said he never again wants to take the bus.

“I just completely felt that they’d turned their backs on me and they don’t have any love or affection or understanding,” said Volz, who said he considered himself a member of the BATA family.

BATA officials temporarily suspended Volz and 22 other riders after implementing a no-show policy that took effect on Feb. 17.

People who fail to appear at a pre-arranged pickup three times within four weeks face a 30-day suspension from the service, based on the new rules. Repeat offenders face increasing suspension lengths.

They’re still able to access BATA’s fixed route buses. Only access to dial-a-ride buses or link and flex routes is affected.

“We’re aware it was being abused by a lot of people,” said Tom Menzel, BATA’s executive director. “We’d drive to Suttons Bay or Fife Lake and drive back. You can imagine the cost of a driver if no one’s there. Also, it created a bad perception because people would see an empty bus driving around.”

“It’s all about accountability and responsibility and healthy boundaries,” Menzel said.

There have been 500 no-shows since the policy started, and 23 suspensions.

“The biggest impact will be not sending a bus, because we do first-call, first-serve,” Menzel said. “If we send a bus out to Suttons Bay, that bus couldn’t be picking up someone who needs to go to dialysis. By getting a better handle on the system we’ll make sure people who really need it will have access to the system.”

Kelly Yaroch, BATA’s director of human resources and operations, estimated the no-shows cost the system about $15,000 since the policy was implemented.

The policy mirrors that of other public bus services around the state, including in places like Bay City and Marquette, Menzel said.

But Volz thinks the policy is unfair. Volz, who lives in Sugar Plum Apartments in Garfield Township, doesn’t believe he should be penalized the same as someone who lives further from town.

He also contends his violations aren’t accurate. He said one bus showed up more than 30 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time, and once on the wrong day.

Volz works at Disability Network Northern Michigan and said he also worries about disabled people or working people who use the bus and can’t get to a phone to cancel, as well as students who have to stay after school on short notice.

“They’re going to kick the people off the buses that need it the most,” Volz said.

Menzel noted that riders can appeal their no-shows, and BATA can provide a record of when buses make stops.

Additionally, people can cancel any time of day or night, even if the office isn’t open, he said.

This is the third cost-saving measure BATA officials implemented in the last few years. Past changes include requiring people who want reduced fares to prove they’re seniors, students, or disabled and implementing electronic fare boxes.