News Story

$40 Million ‘Rapid’ Silver Line Bus Takes Twice as Long as a Car

Video shows how new Grand Rapids bus line beats the old line by only one minute

GRAND RAPIDS – Commuters looking for a faster way to travel may have to look beyond Michigan’s first “rapid transit” bus line. The service, which began the last week in August in Grand Rapids and is known as the Silver Line, cost taxpayers $40 million but takes twice as long as a car driving the same route.

The service is called “rapid” because the buses have their own lane and bus drivers can signal traffic lights to stay green. The buses also feature newly installed bus stops where you buy your ticket from a machine and validate it before you board. The stops also provide camera surveillance, real-time arrival signage, sidewalk snowmelt, an emergency phone and free Wi-Fi.

Free Wi-Fi could be a welcome amenity because a ride on the 9.6-mile route takes 39 minutes based on timing of a recent ride. A car making the same trip took 20 minutes. Furthermore, the Silver Line is just a minute faster than an existing line, mainly because the existing line has more stops along the route.

Bill Mills of the Kent County Taxpayer Alliance is not surprised by the performance. His organization has been monitoring The Rapid, the authority that runs the metropolitan area’s buses and the new Silver Line.

“$40 million for a special line to go up and down Division (Street) where we already have a bus line? It’s just a gross waste of money,” says Mills.

The Rapid, the authority that runs the Silver Line, did not return phone calls or emails, even though it was informed that Michigan Capitol Confidential planned to time a Silver Line ride. Before videotaping at Central Station, one of its security guards asked CapCon to stop photographing until a Rapid representative came out to discuss the story. Later, the representative did not return a phone call or email asking for comment on the results.

Commuters say they’re not sure if they will use the route because Division Street is not a road they normally travel. The 9.6-mile route begins at Central Station on Grandville in Grand Rapids, loops around the Spectrum Hospital complex on Michigan Avenue, then heads south to 60th Avenue in Cutlerville. One rider, a mental health counselor who asked not to be named, wondered why the line stops at 60th and not eight blocks farther south where Pine Rest Psychiatric Hospital is located.

“It seems like the Silver Line is geared for a specific kind of clientele. The Rapid would have been better off spending the money improving the existing line which can get very crowded because it offers numerous stops,” he said.

Because millions of dollars were invested into the bus stops, it will be nearly impossible to change the Silver Line route. Instead, there is an effort to develop another one serving students at Grand Valley State University.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.