Student senate works on extending bus routes

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley students ride the Rapid for transportation between Grand Rapids and Allendale on Sept. 29.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley students ride the Rapid for transportation between Grand Rapids and Allendale on Sept. 29.

Lucas Escalada

The Grand Valley State University Rapid bus system provides over two million student bus rides a year to, from and around campus. However, it doesn’t always go where students need it to.

The External Relations Committee of student senate is trying to establish a bus route that extends from campus further into Allendale, Michigan.

Shirlene Armstrong, a member of the External Relations Committee, said there is no easy way for students to travel between the GVSU campus and greater Allendale. Since there is no public transportation in Allendale, students have to drive cars if they want to travel between the city and the university.

One of the proposed ideas is extending a bus route to the Family Fare store in Allendale. This could be an extension of the Rapid, which would be most easily implemented into the current system, Armstrong said.

One of the main issues with simply extending the Rapid’s route is cost. The Rapid is a bus system in Kent County, while Allendale is a part of Ottawa County. Armstrong said GVSU already pays a fee to get the Rapid into Ottawa County. According to the 2015-16 GVSU general fund budget, the university already spends $2.8 million on bus services.

Creating a new bus system for GVSU and the Allendale community is a possibility, but it would still have to cross counties.

“The issue you’re going to run into with creating a busing system that would be exclusive to Grand Valley would be that you still have to go to Kent County for Grand Rapids,” Armstrong said. “In the end you would still have to have the Rapid and that provides more frustration in bus changes.”

Armstrong said the senate attempted a Rapid extension a few years ago, but the project was never completed. That project tried to extend the Rapid into Allendale, instead of creating a new busing system through a GVSU van or bus purchase.

The committee is still in the beginning process of understanding all the options that are available. Armstrong said that it looks like the situation is feasible; locations exist that students want to visit, and GVSU has vans that could possibly be used. However, it’s a challenge to understand how to fund the project.

Armstrong hopes to accomplish this project without passing on any cost to the students. Funding could come through a federal grant, or a donation.

For Armstrong, it is imperative to connect the GVSU and Allendale communities. She said Allendale is the students’ true community. However, many students identify more with Grand Rapids than Allendale.

“(Students) would rather go to Grand Rapids because there is transportation, or because they feel that’s where more of Grand Valley is,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the two communities are existing as two separate entities right now, and this could help merge them together. Right now, both communities exist somewhat isolated from each other—expanding a bus route and providing easier transportation could help reverse any negative images.

“We have this stigma that Allendale community members don’t like Grand Valley students, which is completely false,” Armstrong said. “They actually really enjoy the community, and they want to be more engaged, and they want to have a better connection.”

Andy Oeffner, the recently elected vice president of the External Relations Committee, said strengthening the relationship of the Allendale community and the GVSU community is a huge focus.

He described the ideal relationship between Allendale and GVSU as a symbiotic one, and hopes the proposed extended transportation would create such a relationship.