BEULAH — Benzie Bus doesn't offer the flying transport that adorns the cover of its 2018 annual report.

But the transportation service continues to soar toward a major milestone.

Benzie Bus, which just wrapped up its 11th season, is closing in on 1 million riders. The transportation service needs 104,000 riders to surpass the mark.

"That's really attainable," said Bill Kennis, executive director of Benzie Bus.

Benzie Bus reported 95,051 rides in fiscal 2018. That marked the second straight year the rural transportation service recorded 12 percent growth.

"We'll easily get over 104,000," Kennis said. "We'll probably hit it next October or November.

"Things are going in the right direction with a lot of our initiatives."

Kennis said Benzie Bus has been able to raise usage during a time when the budget remains flat.

"We've been doing a lot of things to improve our efficiency," he said. "By moving our buses to where we need them, we can increase ridership."

Benzie Bus still has a fleet of 22 buses and four transits. The service still runs from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Kennis said the bus service will make adjustments in its schedule to "better respond to peak times."

For example, Kennis said Benzie Bus ran fewer buses during a mid-week afternoon and was able to offer service this Saturday night, mainly for Halloween parties. Kennis said some 100 riders took advantage of the service.

Benzie Bus also expanded its airport shuttle service to Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, depicted by a flying bus on the cover of its annual report. Kennis said longer Saturday hours were needed because four of the five Saturday flights previously were after the service stopped operating.

Kennis said expanded airport service is one of the adjustments made in response to rider requests.

"You have to do what the people need," he said.

Benzie Bus also tries to improve efficiency by running 60 percent of its bus fleet on propane. Kennis said this number is increasing as new vehicles are added to the fleet.

Recognized as the 2017 Rural Transit of the Year by the American Public Transit System, Benzie Bus and the Bay Area Transportation Authority in Grand Traverse County received a $990,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation as part of the Michigan Mobility Challenge.

Kennis said Benzie Bus averages 350 riders a day as the climb to 1 million riders continues.

Business writer