Results from the Grand Vision show people in and around Traverse City want good public bus service.
The new director of the region's largest transit authority says one way to do that is to consolidate the various agencies running buses. But not everyone agrees.
There are four independent bus services in the five counties around Traverse City. Most of them run buses into Traverse, but it's difficult to work out a transfer if you want to travel across the region.
Tom Menzel, the director of the Bay Area Transportation Authourity, hopes to change that.
"The state has already said to the Michigan Department of Transportation that 'You're going to change. You're not going to get funding if you don't get a centralized strategy.'
"So you're better off planning for that, finding linkages and connectivity and findings ways to develop and maintain a basic service, as compared to cutting service all together because that may happen," he says.
Regional Means Less Local Control
Consolidating local governments has generally proven to be impossible in Michigan, and cooperation can be difficult. That may be true even for transit authorities.
Benzie Bus Director Susan Miller is willing to work with BATA, but she is still on the fence.
"I think we're going to have more discussions and hopefully we're can to progress to more pieces of it. But it's gonna be very careful and it would require everyone's cooperation. And I just don't know if everyone is willing to cooperate at this point," she says.
Ron Kea, the bus director in Kalkaska, is not sold on the idea. He thinks the goal is to consolidate power and tax dollars into one system controlled from Traverse City. Kea says people in Kalkaska County are better served by having their own bus system. He does not think regionalization would be practical or affordable for the average riders in his county.
"And you take the control about the local units of governments, who's going to care about the local people?" he asks.
One point of contention appears to be with a service called dial-a-ride. It's an upon-request service that allows riders to be picked up at their door and dropped off at their destination.
BATA director Tom Menzel would like his bus system to move toward more fixed, regular scheduled routes and less dial-a-ride service.
But Ron Kea says the only way to serve people in remote areas of Kalkaska County is with dial-a-ride. Kea does not think a regional bus service would be attentive to their needs.
"Regionalization is not going to run buses out to the county to pick up one or two people, like we're able to do now. It's gonna travel main routes. It's not going to be door-to-door. It's not going to be personalized service like all the counties have right now," he says.
Kea doesn't see a problem if government services like dial-a-ride cost money. He says buses are just like any other tax-subsidized service, such as libraries and schools, people pay into the system whether they use it or not to benefit the greater good.
Tom Menzel thinks moving away from dial-a-ride would increase the number and variety of riders using public transportation across the counties. In his view, it would save money by decreasing door-to-door dial-a-ride and cutting down on bus system bureaucracy, or fiefdoms, as he calls it.
Jim Lively, director of the Michigan Land Use Institute, agrees.
"I know there's plenty of political reasons why agencies don't want to see that happen. Maybe one of them is that there would only be one director instead of five.
"You could get away with less administrators, less dispatch. You'd have one person working on signage and marketing instead of five different entities trying to do their own," he says.
Recently, BATA applied for a federal grant that would allow them to collaborate with other counties on developing cross-county bus routes.