Study puts brakes on regional transit system

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:44 AM

A report released Monday for the Ottawa County Planning Commission rejects the idea of starting such a regional transit system.

“The analysis of the findings in the report were pretty straightforward,” said Mark Knudsen, director of the county's Planning and Performance Improvement Department. “The cost was quite expensive and the availability of funds was limited.”

Knudsen also noted that a lack of demand and estimates of low ridership are also reasons that it isn't recommended. Ridership is projected to be relatively light, ranging from one to nine passengers per hour.

“The route that had the most demand was Holland to Grand Rapids, and that would have been nine people per hour,” Knudsen said.

Knudsen said there were routes that may have doubled a commuter’s transit time.

“Most people were unwilling to add that much time to their trip,” he said.

Knudsen also noted that a regional transit service would be difficult to start without the contribution of local funding.

The Ottawa County study looked at routes that would’ve connected Grand Haven/Norton Shores to Holland, Grand Haven/Muskegon to Grand Valley State University, Muskegon to Grand Rapids, Holland to Grand Rapids, and Holland to GVSU. The estimated capital cost to establish all of these routes was $1.97 million. Annual operating costs were identified as high as $1.53 million.

“I think that the key is funding,” said Grand Haven Transportation Director Tom Manderscheid, who oversees Harbor Transit. “To fund something like that, who funds it?”

While the bulk of the proposal was rejected, local and county officials say that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be used in the future.

“I think there’s pieces of that study that have merit, and we’re going to review it in the future to see if it will fit for us,” Manderscheid said. “... I think there’s some employers locally who’ve expressed a need for public transit to get people to and from work."

Knudsen also said there is interest in regional public transportation, and changes may occur in the future that would make such a service viable. Factors include higher gas prices, lack of parking, and future economic development that could cause a spike in the need for public transportation options.

“This study will be good for another 10 years,” Knudsen said. “The study could be used at any point in the future if circumstances change.”

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