TRAVERSE CITY — Residents in Leelanau County can now ride the bus until midnight using a new door-to-door on-demand service being offered by the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA).
With Leelanau Afterhours people can call for a bus from anywhere in Leelanau from 6:30 p.m. until midnight Monday through Friday. They can also be picked up in Traverse City and taken home, said Eric Lingaur, communications and development director for BATA.
The service started in May and so far has logged a total of 80 rides, Lingaur said, adding that it typically takes about six to 12 months for riders to catch on to any new service.
Another service, the Bayline, has people in Traverse City riding the bus for free. The Bayline started in June 2018 and by June of this year hit 150,000 rides. Another 29,000 people used the service during the National Cherry Festival.
“We love it,” said Shari Hintz, who lives near Tom’s East Bay Plaza and about a block from the bus stop.
Hintz uses the Bayline to run errands and to go to her son’s baseball games, her daughter uses it to get to babysitting jobs and her husband has used it to go to the library.
They are a two-car family, Hintz said, but using the bus eliminates parking problems, is better on the environment and is practical.
“It’s also supporting something that might not be necessary for us, but is for a lot of people,” Hintz said.
Free bus rides are offered through sponsors that offset fares, Lingaur said. In the first year of the program about $100,000 was collected from sponsors; the goal to sustain the service is $150,000 per year, he said.
The Bayline runs all day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and has pickups every 15 minutes. Anyone waiting at a bus stop only has to wait 10-15 minutes for a bus, Lingaur said.
Shea O’Brien lives near Northwestern Michigan College and uses the bus to get to his job at Burritt’s Market on Front Street.
“I love the frequency of it,” O’Brien said. “The 12 to 15 minutes is awesome. It helps that it’s free also.”
He and his girlfriend often use the service in the evening so they don’t have to worry about parking. And if they want to have a drink or two they don’t have to worry about driving, he said.
BATA was hoping to provide 50,000 to 60,000 rides in the first year of the Bayline service, Lingaur said.
“We are very happy with the success of the Bayline,” Lingaur said. “To have 150,000 riders in 12 months is just amazing.”
Leelanau Afterhours is one of several services added by BATA in response to a 2017 study that asked county residents, businesses and community organizations for feedback on what type of bus services they wanted to see.
Last year BATA added two fixed evening routes in Leelanau that ran at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. during the week.
“We kind of put our toes in the water last year and it validated that people wanted that service,” Lingaur said.
Also new is the Leelanau Loop route that runs three times a day during the week and makes scheduled stops in Suttons Bay, Peshawbestown, Omena, Northport, Leland and Lake Leelanau.
Another, the Expanded Village Link Service, offers door-to-door service in Leelanau from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week. The service picks riders up at their door to take them to their destination, or can pick them up somewhere and take them home.
Riders can call to book a bus ride up to two weeks in advance.
Shelters and benches are also being added at several bus stops on Leelanau routes. BATA on Monday received a 2 percent grant of $11,000 from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians. The money will be used to add as many shelters as possible, Lingaur said.
All bus rides are $3 one way or $1.50 for those who qualify for a reduced fare.