City approves free Medical Mile bus route


A three-way pact providing fare-free public transit along Medical Mile now has city approval.

The Grand Rapids City Commission recently approved a three-year pilot partnership between the city, Spectrum Health and the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) aiming to provide fare-free busing with improved service times along Route 19. The new plan will take effect Aug. 27.

“Leaders of the city, Spectrum Health and The Rapid all have a vested interest in continuing the success of the Michigan Street corridor,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid. “Together, we are committed to ensuring the Medical Mile flourishes as a great place that is an attractive, accessible and convenient destination.”

According to documents Mobile GR submitted to the city, the agreement would introduce Route 19 as a no-fare service by subsidizing operations with annual funding from Spectrum Health, Mobile GR and Parking Services Department and The Rapid. 

According to the agreement, the city and Spectrum Health will each shoulder 40.1 percent of the cost, and The Rapid will pay the remaining 19.8 percent.

The current service cost for Route 19 is $53.33 per hour. Operating expenses are expected to change year to year but will not exceed 5 percent annually. The city’s portion at the current rate will be $293,737 annually.

The annual cost contribution from the city is budgeted in the fiscal year 2018 and 2019 plan, and will come from the current ITP DASH and Silver Line operating agreement.

The plan also would increase the Route 19 service hours by 42.1 hours each day for a total of 53.17 hours of transit services per day.

Currently, the route is a peak-time-only service that runs from 5:20-8:41 a.m. and again from 3:21-5:41 p.m.

Per the agreement, service hours for Route 19 will go from 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday through Friday. The increase in operating hours expects to improve bus stops to 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during nonpeak hours.

The route includes stops near Spectrum Health, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and the Bridge Street Market urban grocery store and café being built by Meijer and Rockford Construction on the West Side.

But the pilot route also is noticeably shorter than the existing route. Whereas the current Route 19 runs a loop between Bridge and Leonard streets on the West Side and connects Oak Industrial Drive to Michigan Street, these two portions of the route have been cut off in the pilot plan.

Varga said the changes were made to allow for the higher rate of frequency with a limited vehicle inventory.

“To achieve a 10-minute frequency, we have to use ‘x’ amount of buses,” he said. “The route had to be truncated at both ends to make that 10-minute frequency.”

Varga added the Oak Industrial Drive portion would be added to Route 14, so passengers in the area still will be serviced, and the West Side loop was only a way for buses to turn around, and picked up few or no passengers.

Josh Naramore, Mobile GR and Parking Services manager, also said the Route 19 improvements would benefit the city’s parking customers.

“This proposal offers additional parking options to employees and residents by connecting existing facilities that have capacity on the west side of the river, such as the Scribner Lot and Lots 7, 8 and 9, which have available monthly permit parking for $48 or daily parking ranging from $2 to $4,” he said.

The Mobile GR Commission approved the plan during its regular meeting April 12, and the Rapid Board of Directors approved it May 23.

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