State bus lines grow ridership, serve rural areas

From The Grand Rapids Press:

William Bussa had an easy choice: Hop on an Indian Trails motorcoach and get home in time for Thanksgiving, or stay in a virtually deserted Grand Valley State University campus and miss a family holiday gathering in Elk Rapids.

Bussa, 18, doesn’t have a car and couldn’t hitch a ride north, leading him to the bus trip.

“It’s a boring ride, but it gets me where I need to go,” Bussa said.

He is part of thinning crowds on the “Sleeping Bear” route between Grand Rapids and points north to Boyne Falls.

The state said recently that riders on that route declined almost 10 percent in the last fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, largely the result of the trip ending at Boyne Falls instead of continuing to St. Ignace. Those going further north and west into the Upper Peninsula must change buses as part of another Indian Trails route.

The Grand Rapids link is the only intercity bus route that had a drop in riders last year. The decline came as the four other routes experienced double-digit gains.

The Department of Transportation said ridership was up:

27 percent on the “Straits” service between East Lansing and St. Ignace

17.1 percent on the “Huron” route from Bay City to St. Ignace

20.6 percent on the “Superior” service between Hancock and Milwaukee

2.6 percent on the “Hiawatha” trip from St. Ignace and Ironwood

Fares on the government-subsidized rural routes accounted for 50 percent of operating expenses, the state said. About $1.8 million was collected in 2011 and the state has allocated that same amount for the 2012 fiscal year.

“It’s a very efficient form of travel,” said Janet Foran, a transportation department spokeswoman. “More importantly, the riders are telling us that this is their way to travel and that without the bus they wouldn’t be able to make the trip.

“It’s an important service for the state and its residents.”

For Kathryn Navejar, the lack of alternative transportation was her reason for buying a ticket to Kincheloe, along I-75 between St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie.

Navejar was moving from Grand Rapids to the Upper Peninsula city to live with her children. It was her first trip on the Sleeping Bear line, but she’s used buses for years.

“It’s the cheapest way, can’t afford a car,” she said.

Others, such as, Darlene Myers, could drive, but find the route a convenience.

“I leave the driving to them,” Myers said before boarding the bus this week.