Maybe the second time is a charm


This time it just may work.

Members of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority made a major commitment last week toward establishing DASH service to the Monroe North Business District when they agreed to contribute up to $75,000 each year for the next two years for the capital costs of a pilot transit service.

“Here we have a stellar transit system that, unfortunately, doesn’t reach Monroe North,” said DDA Executive Director Kristopher Larson, who recommended the board finance the project. “We’re looking at a three-way partnership to fund the service. This doesn’t involve any dollars that were not intended for transit service.”

Larson said the DDA funds are coming from the board’s share of the Interurban Transit Partnership’s annual millage.

The DDA is moving forward on a request made by the Monroe North Business Association and is working with Parking Services and The Rapid, the city’s bus service, to make something happen. The DDA buys the buses for DASH, which stands for Downtown Area Shuttle. Parking Services operates the system, and The Rapid, which ITP operates, supplies the drivers and maintains the buses.

“Staff from The Rapid has indicated that the Monroe North corridor is a high priority for future Rapid transit service, but funding limitations prevent the provision of service in the near term,” said Larson.

The idea behind the service is to link the business district with downtown and the Michigan Street hill area, also called the Medical Mile. The capital cost for a year’s transit service has been estimated at ranging from $175,000 to $225,000, which would cover leasing a bus and operational expenses. Parking Services, which operates the city-owned lots and ramps downtown, is considering matching the DDA’s contribution.

Larson said Michigan State University and Spectrum Health are being brought into the conversation regarding the service. MSU’s College of Human Medicine is on Michigan Street and Spectrum Health has a number of holdings along the Medical Mile.

“Transit planners are working diligently to identify the best route,” said Larson. “By no means is the DDA staff planning that route. We’re leaving that to the experts.”

Pam Ritsema, the city’s managing director of Enterprise Services, said there are two city-owned lots in the district that could serve as bases for the shuttle service. One is on Monroe Avenue at Trowbridge Street NW. The other is at the corner of Ionia Avenue and Mason Street NW. She said both have excess capacity and could be used for DASH parking sites.

Parking Services projected the lot on North Monroe to take in revenue of just $26,700 this fiscal year; a revenue projection hasn’t been made for the Ionia/Mason lot. Both lots charge $3 for all-day parking.

Ritsema also said Parking Services was participating with personnel from The Rapid in planning the route.

“Our goal is to create a self-sustainable activity,” said DDA Chairman Brian Harris.

The Monroe North Business Association first approached the city about adding the sector to the DASH service in 2002. The idea then was to offer a six-month trial run that would cost the city $41,000. The city’s plan was to charge $20 a month to park in the DASH West lot on Winter Avenue NW just south of Bridge Street and then ride the shuttle into the business district. But a survey conducted by the former Neighborhood Business Specialist Program and given to those who worked in the sector revealed there wasn’t enough demand for the service so the trial run never happened.

The Monroe North District stretches east from the Grand River to Division Avenue and south from Leonard Street to I-196. DASH has been running through the streets of downtown since 1997.

“Building a central city that’s easy to get around and connected to adjacent neighborhoods is one of the community’s top priorities,” said Larson. “Ridership on the downtown DASH service exceeds 570,000 rides in 2012. Expanding the service will encourage new riders and better connect all riders to jobs, education and other downtown opportunities.”

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