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Some in Grand Rapids suburbs want out of bus system

Rapid Central Station in downtown Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Rapid Central Station in downtown Grand Rapids

Today some people in the Cities of Granville and Walker will begin collecting signatures to get their cities out of the partnership that runs the bus system in metro Grand Rapids. It’s called The Rapid.

TheKent County Taxpayers Alliance says it's not against bus transportation in general, but feels the system is wasting tax dollars. The grassroots organization with volunteer staff tries to keeps tabs on taxpayer dollars in local government.

Ben Reisterer is a member, and lives in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker.   

“These communities, they vote overwhelmingly against these frequent tax increases that The Rapid asks for but because Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids have such larger voting blocks, they often get steamrolled,” Reisterer said.

One year ago this month voters in Walker and Grandville voted against a tax hike to improve bus service. But voters in the larger region passed the increase… by less than a half of a percentagepoint.

“I understand where people are coming from in this economy,” said Barb Holt, chair of the Interurban Transit Partnership’s board of directors. She’s alsomayor pro tem of the City of Walker.

Holt says no one has approached her in the past to raise concerns about the bus system being wasteful or inefficient. But she says she’s open to listening.

“I kind of equate it to the fact that I don’t have kids in public schools. I rarely go to the library. I’m old enough but I don’t use services of the senior millage. But I have yet to not approve those millages. It’s just something that we do for our community,” Holt said.

She says 70-percent of riders are commuting to work. She says more than 9,000 riders on average go through the Walker’s business district each day. She says The Rapid is “vital” to Walker’s economy.

“What upsets me more than anything is that we clearly haven’t gotten the message out,” Holt said. “That’s my mission this year.”

 “We agree with our detractors tat mass transit is probably a good thing. What we’re against is the waste the inefficiency and unaccountability,”Reisterer said. “We don’t understand why our detractors don’t think we should look at these things.”

“This would ensure that taxpayers in these communities won’t be on the hook for projects that don’t benefit them,” Reisterer said. He pointed to the proposed Silverline as an example.

The group will need to collect more than a thousand voter signatures in each city (more than 1,600 in Walker and around 1,200 in Grandville) by mid August in order to put the question to voters in November. Reisterer said he’s “pretty optimistic” about the proposal’s chances to be on the ballot.

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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