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Grand Rapids-area bus system improvements begin today

A Rapid bus in Grand Rapids.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Students board The Rapid's DASH to the Hill bus. The free route serves Grand Rapids' growing 'Medical Mile' and several colleges nearby.

The Rapid busses start a new schedule Monday that will better serve riders late at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday. The bus service is improving thanks to a millage voters passed back in May.

Grand Rapids resident Mike Ewer and his wife don’t have a car anymore. He says about a year and a half ago both of their cars broke down within a span of two months.  “We just said ‘well, we get about okay on the bus so why are we spending money on cars, on maintenance, taxes, gas, insurance and all that stuff?’ So we said ‘let’s just ride the bus.”

Ewer says he pays $40 a month to ride the bus. “It is a huge financial savings to ride the bus, as long as it’s going where you want it to go,” Ewer said.

The Rapid's Route 4 drops me off right in front of Booking.com's call center in Wyoming. Ewer (and sometimes a couple of his co-workers) wait around 40 minutes in the darkened lobby after his shift ends for the northbound Route 4 bus to take him roughly 7 miles back home. Under the new bus schedule his wait is just seven minutes.

“I just want to thank everyone that voted for the millage because we passed it by 136 votes,” Ewer said. The millage for The Rapid service improvementspassed by less than 1-percent of the popular vote of several communities last May

“It was a lot of hard work and it was definitely worth it,” Ewer smiles, “And here’s to the next one when we get Sunday service improved.” Ewer has to catch a ride to work on Sundays because his bus doesn’t run much that day. The next phase of service improvements will happen in August.

Calvin College senior Andrew Webster is writing a blog about his New Year’s resolution to ride The Rapidas much as possible. “I wouldn’t say that I’m a Rapid evangelist, but I do advocate it when it comes up in conversation,” Webster said. 

Webster admits his family and friends aren’t as fond of public transportation. He hopes his blog will convince more people to at least consider using the bus system in Grand Rapids. One of his blog entries reads in part:

Walking eastward towards Lake Drive, I pondered how I would broach the topic of my new method of transportation to my car-clutching family, none of whom are particularly fond of public transit. Upon arrival at Striders, we decided to head down Wealthy to The Winchester for a dinner of lettuce wraps, kyckling kötbulle, and pad thai. Over these scrumptious digs I informed my family that I would not, in fact, be needing a ride home afterward because I would be taking the bus. I might have announced that I was forsaking all technology and becoming an aesthetic in the Jordanian desert. After much cajoling and assuring the more adamant of dissenters, I thanked my kin for their company, bid them adieu, walked a couple steps out the door, and caught Route 5 back home.

“I think they think I’m leaning towards crazy especially because I have a car and I think I’m not the stereotypical bus rider,” Webster told me. Webster notes he does pay a reduced rate for Calvin College students of 50 cents per ride instead of the normal $1.50; which makes a compelling financial argument in favor of The Rapid, Webster says.

Since its founding in 2000, The Rapid has grown every year; making more than 10 million trips in 2011. The millage is the first step in a 20 year plan to improve serviceand keep up with demand.

The improvements to the busses in Grand Rapids come at a time when the bus systems that serve Metro Detroit face problems like route cutbacks and service delays.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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