ITP Marks 5 Millionth Passenger

    GRAND RAPIDS — Carla Marion rides The Rapid every day to and from work, but last Tuesday’s ride home wasn’t just like every other day’s.

      As she was preparing to board a Rapid bus at 4:42 at the downtown transit center on Ionia, Marion was greeted by members of the ITP Board and ITP Executive Director Peter Varga, on hand to congratulate her for being the transit system’s 5 millionth passenger of the year.

    Marion, of Grand Rapids, was honored with a year’s worth of free monthly bus passes, a bouquet of balloons and a sack full of gear bearing The Rapid logo.

    According to the ITP, The Rapid is one of the fastest growing transit systems in the Midwest, with a ridership that has grown 65 percent since 1995. 

    Varga expects that by the end of fiscal 2002, the transit system will have served 5.5 million passengers.

    “That means we have added over a million rides in just two years,” he said. “I think this clearly demonstrates the importance of public transportation to residents of the Grand Rapids metro area.”

    He credits the growth in ridership to system improvements put in place after the successful transit millage in 2000, including the addition of evening and Sunday service and introduction of the PASS program.

    For the third quarter of this year, total ridership was 1.3 million, up 9.4 percent from 2001’s third quarter.

    The Rapid’s performance report shows that buses arrived on schedule 91 percent of the time, up from 86 percent for the same period a year ago.

    A metro area ridership survey completed in June revealed that work related trips were by far the primary reason for using the bus system.

    Some 58 percent of riders identified “work” or “work related” as the purpose of their trip.

    Thus, some 3.2 million of the estimated 5.5 million trips in fiscal 2001-2002 are directly related to employment.

    Shopping came in second, accounting for 11 percent of rips. School transportation, college and K-12, accounted for 8 percent of trips. 

    Of those surveyed, 77 percent said they didn’t have their own car to make the trip. And nearly 75 percent said they ride the bus five or more days a week.

    According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation ridership nationwide has been increasing for six consecutive years.

    APTA attributes the growth to higher levels of investment by federal, state and local sources, expansion of service with new lines and extensions and enhanced customer services offered by transit systems. 

    In related news, at last week’s ITP board meeting, Grand Valley State University renewed its service agreement with ITP for Route 50, the “campus connector” that runs between GVSU’s Allendale and downtown campuses.

    The university originally entered into a contract with ITP for the service in August 2000

    Before entering the agreement, the university had about 700 students a day riding between its two campuses, said Lisa Haynes, director of operations for GVSU’s downtown campus.

    She said last year campus connector ridership was up to about 1,250 a day. Ridership has increased by more than 40 percent this year.

    Beginning this semester, service frequencies Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. were stepped up to every 20 minutes from the previous service level of every 30 minutes. 

    GVSU’s agreement with ITP also provides off campus shuttle service to the Allendale campus from surrounding student housing and a paratransit service for the disabled. 

    Haynes said Route 50 service has provided the connection that allows the two campuses to function as one rather than independently of each other. Students don’t have to be concerned about where they take a class, she said, because there’s a way to get to either campus.

    “It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s a good way to educate them on public transportation. A lot of them have never used it before.”

    Haynes noted the university is interested in maintaining a long-term relationship with ITP and is looking at the possibility of increasing services to students beyond the campus connector route.

    ITP Chairman George Heartwell asked what ITP could do to encourage Grand Valley students to use the bus line for transportation needs other than shuttling between campuses.

    Haynes said the university is working with student government on spreading the word among various student organizations about the availability of bus service to get them to and from other locations.

    “We’re trying to provide different opportunities for students to appreciate what the greater Grand Rapids community has to offer,” she said.

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