The Rapid

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s first bus rapid transit system will be built in the Grand Rapids area. Bus rapid transit operates similar to light rail, but because less infrastructure is needed, bus rapid transit is much cheaper. Buses will arrive at stops every ten minutes. They’ll have designated lanes and be able to change traffic lights so they don’t have to slow down.

On Thursday federal, state and local officials gathered at The Rapid Central Station to officially sign the agreement. Peter Rogoff is with the Federal Transit Administration.

“It’s going to lower commute times by some 40-percent and even for folks that never take the bus, it’s going to take congestion off of US-131 and off of Division; in a way that’s going to be beneficial to everybody,” Rogoff said.

The new bus line, the Silver Line, won’t be complete until the summer of 2014, according to The Rapid CEO Peter Varga. It will run almost ten miles between the residential suburbs south of Grand Rapids up to major employers and the ‘medical mile’ in the downtown area.

Josh Leffingwell / Friends of Transit

People in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker will vote this November on whether to withdraw from the regional bus system. Now transportation supporters are fighting back.

Supporters of the bus system in metro Grand Rapid held a kick-off rally in defense of the bus sytem, known as The Rapid.

Barbara Holt is a Walker City Commissioner and chairwoman of the regional transit authority. She and other business leaders at the rally said keeping Walker connected is vital to the overall community's economy.

“People can stay in Walker, go shopping someplace else, go working someplace else but we all come back. It’s so important that we do not isolate ourselves from the region,” Holt said.

“I use it for work, when I was working on my masters degree I used for school, medical appointments. I use it for everything,” Walker resident Tom Gilson said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in a Grand Rapids suburb will decide in November whether the city should withdraw from the regional bus system.

This week the City of Walker certified petition signatures collected by the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance.

Ben Reisterer lives in Walker and is with the alliance.

"We’re not against busing at all. We think it’s a good thing for the community. But we don’t necessarily agree with the way they are going about providing that service," Reisterer said.

Several cities in Michigan saw large increases in bus ridership in the first quarter of this year.

But the state's largest city saw a decline.

Bus ridership on "The Rapid" jumped 12% in the Grand Rapids metro area. 

Spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk says more people use the bus when gas prices go up.

But she says The Rapid also has more buses running at night now, and running later at night.  That increase in service began in January, after residents approved a new millage last year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Today some people in the Cities of Granville and Walker will begin collecting signatures to get their cities out of the partnership that runs the bus system in metro Grand Rapids. It’s called The Rapid.

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance says it's not against bus transportation in general, but feels the system is wasting tax dollars. The grassroots organization with volunteer staff tries to keeps tabs on taxpayer dollars in local government.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Rapid busses start a new schedule Monday that will better serve riders late at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday. The bus service is improving thanks to a millage voters passed back in May.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The public transportation system in greater Grand Rapids is celebrating a record number of riders this year. The Rapid is operated by an authority made up of Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding suburbs; Wyoming, Walker, Grandville, East Grand Rapids, and Kentwood.  

Barbara Deming waits for a bus at The Rapid Central Station which is packed every morning and afternoon on the weekdays. Deming has ridden the bus nearly every week since moving back home to Grand Rapids from a small town up north 7 years ago.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Supporters of a millage to fund and expand bus services in the Grand Rapids metro area celebrated a narrow victory last night.

More than 34,000 people cast ballots. It passed by just 136 votes.

David Bulkowski breathed a huge sigh of relief after hours of unclear results. He’s with the Friends of Transit – a political action committee supporting the bus service.

“We are conservative West Michigan. And together these 6 communities have said ‘yep, we want it.”

The bus system, known as The Rapid, will now be able to serve riders later at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding cities are voting Tuesday on a millage increase to support expanded public transportation.

Lizbeth Espinoza and Michael Tuffelmire walk into small Mexican super market in the mostly-Hispanic Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Tuffelmire says many people here aren’t aware there are any other elections but the big one in November.

That's part of the reason they’re driving around a passenger van, picking up anyone who needs a ride to vote.

“I’m just trying to just, no matter what people want to vote, I’m trying to make easier access for them," Tuffelmire said.

Public transportation officials in Grand Rapids are excited about one detail in President Obama’s budget announced this week. A proposed rapid bus transit system in Grand Rapids is one of ten new construction projects that Obama would like to fund in 2012.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Public transportation around Grand Rapids could get a huge boost if voters in the city and 5 suburbs approve a mileage increase set to appear on the ballot in May. If the levy passes, The Rapid CEO Peter Varga says it would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $76 a year.