In the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area, the average commute is 40.4 minutes for public transport riders, compared to 21.4 for people who drive themselves. Photo by Ehren Wynder
The Rapid, along with members of local, state and federal government, last week unveiled the Laker Line, a new bus rapid transit system servicing riders between Walker and Grand Rapids.
Construction began on the Laker Line on April 1, 2019, but this was the first time the public got a glimpse of the new 60-foot articulated shuttle, which is expected to improve stop times.
Service is slated to begin in August 2020. The Laker Line is the second bus rapid transit line for the state of Michigan and The Rapid, which opened the Silver Line in August 2014.
The Laker Line, which will replace The Rapid’s current Route 50 – GVSU Campus Connector, will connect the GVSU Allendale campus to the GVSU Pew Campus and Michigan Street Medical Mile, with stops along Lake Michigan Drive.
“The existing GVSU Route 50 needed additional capacity,” said Stephen Kepley, chair of The Rapid Board of Directors and mayor of Kentwood. “At times, my oldest daughter, a GVSU student, would text me with woes of buses and stress about making it to class on time.”
The new, 60-foot articulated buses provide a 50% increase in rider capacity over older 40-foot bus models, allowing more students on each bus while improving transportation time, Kepley added.
Andrew Johnson, CEO of The Rapid, expected the Laker Line would average 10,000 to 13,000 rides per day.
“All passengers throughout The Rapid’s service area will benefit from the Laker Line’s enhanced service,” Johnson said.
Thomas Haas, president of GVSU, outlined the increase in student ridership as BRT services improved over the years. From 1997 to 2000, a shuttle took students from the Allendale campus to the Pew Campus, averaging about 40,000 riders each year. When the Route 50 campus connector opened in 2000, buses ran on average once every 30 minutes, and the route gave about 98,000 rides that year.
The Route 50 Campus Connector had almost 2.5 million riders last year, Haas added.
The Laker Line’s 13 buses, powered by compressed natural gas, are anticipated to arrive at each station every six minutes.
Similar to the Silver Line, the Laker Line’s 14 platforms will provide well-lit shelters with level platform boarding, off-board fare collecting, real-time arrival signage and security phones and cameras. The Laker Line will share three existing downtown Silver Line stations, helping riders make connections to other routes and improving access throughout The Rapid’s system. GVSU students will ride fare-free, as well.
“We are reducing the cost of the tenants in this case by well over $8 million per year because of the partnerships we have with The Rapid,” Haas said.
The Laker Line will serve the city of Walker, through West Fulton Street, and into downtown Grand Rapids. Construction of the new BRT, totaling around $71 million, is being funded through support from the Federal Transit Administration and the state of Michigan with no additional cost for taxpayers. GVSU also will provide all operational funding, which is estimated to cost $3.5 million annually.
“New jobs, new development, more sustainable communities are the kind of benefits that we see when our nation invests in transportation,” FTA Region 5 Administrator Kelly Brookins said.
She said the FTA provides funding for oversight to over 3,000 transit providers in the U.S. The FTA awarded more than $15 billion in federal funds to transit projects, which included the Laker Line, in 2018.
“As we reinvest in transit, what we’ve seen is a resurgence from the 1950s of over 50 billion rides from downtown to places within the proximity of 2.5 miles, so the FTA is very pleased to provide significant support to transit agencies,” Brookins said.
Planning for the Laker Line began in August 2013. The project received a favorable rating from the FTA competitive grant program for building enhanced transit. Funding for the project was received in January 2018 to finalize design and engineering.
The Laker Line is sponsored by the Interurban Transit Partnership, the organization that operates The Rapid. Partners on the project include the cities of Grand Rapids and Walker, GVSU and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Other stakeholders include Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., West Fulton Business Association, Standale Downtown Development Authority, John Ball Zoo, Disability Advocates for Kent County and the West Side Corridor Improvement Authority.