TRAVERSE CITY — William Woods climbed into the back of a white minivan adorned with the tealBenzie Bus logo, pausing along the way to hand a yellow punch card to Roger Stanwick in the driver’s seat.
The pair joked about tips and chauffeur service while they waited for more passengers at the Bay Area Transportation Authority’s Hall Street bus station in Traverse City.
Woods doesn’t ride the Benzie Bus frequently, but the service comes in handy on his commutes from Traverse City to Lake Ann.
“I save some miles on my vehicle for the price I’m paying, especially in the winter,” Woods said.
Stanwick drove the Benzie Bus on a route that takes passengers from stops in Benzie County to Traverse City and back. His routes typically shuttle five or six riders in one of the transportation service’s small vehicles.
Adding smaller cars to the fleet of buses was a move toward more efficient service, said Benzie Bus Executive Director Bill Kennis. It also helped the organization cut costs and put money into a reserve for the first time.
Benzie Bus released its annual report this week, detailing the organization’s finances and programming for the fiscal year that ended in September. The agency served more than 16,000 riders who took more than 83,000 rides. That’s about the same number of rides and riders as last year, Kennis said.
But those trips came with an 11 percent savings on fuel and seven percent savings on vehicle hours.
“I think we matured as an agency, and we learned how to do everything better, more efficiently,” he said. “Then we were able to take the cost savings and try some new programs.”
Benzie Bus started a slate of new programs last year, including a Traverse City express service, free rides for Medicaid patients to and from medical appointments and regular service along popular routes.
Some services were cut. Buses don’t go to remote areas of the county 12 hours per day like they used to, but that frees drivers for areas that require more service, Kennis said.
Benzie Bus next year will purchase four small, propane-powered transit vehicles instead of medium-sized buses. The agency tries to replace one to three vehicles each year, Kennis said.
The service will also try to increase revenue from advertisers; increase its bike and ride program; increase bus buddies program, which pairs volunteers with senior citizens and people with disabilities to help them navigate the bus system; and try to make the bus service more visible in the community.
“If buses become cool and shelters become attractive then folks consider public transportation more,” Kennis said.