GRAND RAPIDS — The Rapid transit system’s Air Porter service between downtown and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport might be scaled back once again and become a strictly on-demand operation serving convention-goers that come to Grand Rapids.
The Rapid downsized the shuttle service somewhat last November because it wasn’t performing as anticipated and hadn’t become self-sustaining as expected.
When Air Porter direct shuttle service debuted in January 2005, it operated from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily on a 30-minute frequency between downtown hotels and the airport. Shuttle fares of $15 one-way and $25 roundtrip were expected to cover 100 percent of Air Porter’s operation and maintenance expenses, but as it turned out, The Rapid had to contribute local transit funds out of its general fund to keep the service running.
Only 1.7 rides per hour would have been necessary for the program to become completely self-sustaining.
Since 72 percent of Air Porter ridership had been taking place between April 1 and Oct. 31 — the peak convention season — The Rapid scrapped Air Porter runs between November and March and reduced service hours in the peak season to 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
“The Convention and Visitors Bureau staff has been telling us that this year is low on convention business but that it’s going to pick up next year,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid. “We’re not really sure how the airline traffic is affecting it.”
The original purpose of Air Porter was to support the movement of people coming into town to attend conventions, Varga said, but this year there has been a downturn in Air Porter ridership.
He said The Rapid staff is working with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and hotels to come up with a plan in which Air Porter would only serve the conventions that sign up for transportation, so instead of running a regular schedule, it would become a demand response type of operation.
He expects Air Porter will continue on its regular schedule at least until November.