News Story

Grand Rapids Transit Agency Defends New Bus Line

Michigan's first 'bus rapid transit' forced to give away rides

The new $40 million bus line in Grand Rapids has been promoted in the media as a quicker alternative to travel, but timed trips by Capitol Confidential questioned that. Compared to travel by a car, the bus took twice as long.

“We never claimed it would be faster than a car,” said Rapid Spokesperson Jennifer Kalczuk. The Rapid is the authority that runs the $40 million Silver Line BRT.

She said the Silver Line saves time over a conventional bus taking the same route. Capital Confidential found a two-second difference between the two lines.

Kalczuk says more riders will be inclined to ride the Silver Line because of the convenience factor such as being able to read and use your phone while making the commute. She also defended claims that the service will spur economic development.

“The bus stations will attract business because they are permanent structures,” she said, explaining that businesses can be assured of people traffic far into the future.

Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, disagreed.

“If they are so secure about future business than why does it need public support?" LaFaive asked. "A good litmus test of this idea is whether or not anyone would want to finance it privately. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. We’ve seen that time and again.”

Due to a communication problem between a bank and credit card vendor, rides on Michigan’s first rapid transit system have been free.

“That is changing Monday,” Kalczuk said. “The card machines are working. We have tested them and decided to wait until Monday to give fair warning that we will be collecting fares.”

Kalczuk did not have an estimate on how much revenue the malfunction has cost the Rapid, which began operating the Silver Line on Aug. 25. The Rapid charges $1.50 for a single ride, but Kalczuk says with volume discounts and fare subsidies for the disabled, the average fare is 95 cents.

The Rapid offered free rides the first week as an introductory promotion. Ridership for the first week ranged from 824 to 3,186 per day. Rides on three days of the second week ranged from 1,985 to 2,319.

The card machine malfunction has not been the Silver Line’s only problem. The free Wi-Fi service on the bus won’t be available until Oct. 1.

“We are working with the vendor. We had a lot of new things starting at once,” Kalczuk said.


A CapCon video report on the bus line:

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.