Rapid change may be in the future

Ryan Jarvi

With more than 1.4 million people using route 50 last year, The Rapid hosted a day of open house meetings on Thursday to gather public opinion on how to improve the bus system.

“Public outreach and feedback is a big part of all of the projects that we do,” said Jennifer Kalczuk, spokesperson for The Rapid.

A few years ago, The Rapid established a transit master plan, which is a 20-year vision to develop service in the region, Kalczuk said. The plan was based on public input, and one of the things mentioned was the Lake Michigan corridor, route 50.

Ridership on the route has increased 693 percent in the past 10 years from about 179,000 riders in 2002.

“So what we’re looking at it in terms of the capacity of the current system, how that might be improved (and) how we can improve service,” she said. “So this study is a step in the process to get federal funding for that project.”

The Rapid publicly kicked off the 15-month “Laker Line” study by hosting the public forums at its downtown Central Station, the Walker Fire Station and at Grand Valley State University.

According to GVSU’s 2013-2014 Accountability Report, the university has invested more than $2.6 million into its partnership with The Rapid, which Kalczuk said has been very positive for both organizations.

“Grand Valley ridership has grown,” she said. “It’s almost 700 percent growth since we started. It’s a very important relationship, so having this opportunity to hear from our customers, and the students, faculty and staff directly is a great opportunity.”

Kalczuk said the amount of funding needed for the project hasn’t been determined because the study is only in its initial stage of gathering some general information from riders.

“Input is always welcome, but there will be certain points where we’re really focusing on trying to gather that, because there’s some specific questions we’re trying to answer as the study moves forward,” she said. “Right now, it’s kind of just everything and what do you want to see.”

Kalczuk said she was pleased with the turnout at GVSU, and that students were engaged with the event.

“They’re not just running in and grabbing a piece of pizza and leaving,” she said. “They’re going through the exhibits, they’re filling out the priorities and they’re putting pins into maps. They’re really being very engaged in the process and in giving their opinion, which is great.”

Anna Neri, a junior studying speech-language pathology, lives in Allendale and takes the 50 bus downtown for classes and other events.

“I think they should have more (buses), especially on the weekends,” Neri said. “Things like the Griffins games and stuff, everyone takes the bus and it gets so crowded.”

Six stations were set up at the event where campus community members could provide input on a variety of things. People were encouraged to choose certain options—like vehicle types and station styles—based on a budget and to rate top priorities such as “increasing size and/or number of buses” and “improving the environment.”

Maps of the area were also displayed so individuals could pin the places they work, live and travel to on a typical day. Other maps showed the existing bus routes around the Grand Rapids area and allowed for participants to draw new routes they would like to see.

For those who couldn’t attend the open house meetings, The Rapid will continue to collect input through an online program called Mindmixer, which is integrated with social media and allows users to sign in with various accounts.

To provide The Rapid with input, visit lakerlinestudy.mindmixer.com.