Above: Diane Conners (far left) with fellow Rte. 11 bus riders.
I’m from Cedar, and on January 27 I learned the BATA bus I ride to work in Traverse City will be suspended in winter.
The reason: Ridership on this regular, consistent bus is too low. BATA faced tough budget and staff decisions.
This was stunning news to riders, who never were alerted that our bus was endangered. We thought, with the Leelanau County-wide millage, BATA would be working to find ways to make all of its routes more successful.
My husband and I sold our second car because I use BATA so often. A Maple City rider did too. Another decided not to buy a car to get to work after his died. A college student rides to get to class and work. A store employee was in a car accident and now wants the peace of mind of not driving in winter. And every now and then I listen to the chatter of Glen Lake students, off on some adventure.
All of us could have been ambassadors for BATA if we’d been asked for ideas on improvements and for helping more residents become aware of the route.
Consider how BATA has handled other locales:
- Recently, I attended a meeting with BATA and the Traverse City DDA to give feedback on a program that encourages downtown employees to bus to work. People from a store, offices, and a hotel suggested how to make more employees aware of the program and for tweaking bus hours to better match opening and closing times of stores.
- A year ago, BATA held meetings in Northport and Leland for feedback on how service could be improved there. I offered to help BATA organize a meeting in Cedar. But that never happened.
- And when I raised concerns that our bus’s riders were never consulted about this change, staff responded that they got input from businesses in Glen Arbor. How does that count for getting ideas from residents around Cedar and Maple City?
In fact, this is the second time that BATA has made an abrupt, major change in our Route 11 without getting input from riders. The first was when BATA decided to route the bus by a park-n-ride on M-72 rather than continue to run it through Cedar. All of us who rode the bus then scratched our heads.
Much later it was re-routed back, because the change didn’t make sense.
But momentum on building ridership through the village was lost. BATA needed to start anew, and it would have been a great time to increase outreach and marketing in the southern part of the county.
The more consistent and visible BATA’s service is—instead of being interrupted now twice—the more it will become a valued asset in our communities, like libraries.
BATA has financial responsibilities, and we are sensitive to that. After all, we want BATA to succeed. But BATA‘s due diligence must be broader. We passed a millage for all of Leelanau County. We expect to be included. And we’re willing to help.
This column originally appeared in the Leelanau Enterprise.
Postscript: I wish the abrupt change to our Route 11 bus had been handled differently by BATA – but only because I really think it’s fabulous generally and want to see it succeed. I LOVE riding the BATA bus and I encourage people to give it a try. Once you try it and figure out how it works you may see ways in which it will work for you, too.
BATA has now created a very truncated hybrid route for the next three months that picks up from Maple City through Cedar to Traverse City at 7 a.m. and comes back home from Traverse City to Cedar to Maple City at 5:30 p.m. It started February 17 (yesterday).
And a pick-up system called the Link, in which you can call and reserve a ride from your doorstep to wherever you want to go also is available, and always has been – I rode that this morning.
However, the prospect of needing to use the Link system worried a young rider I met on Route 11 who took the regular route in order to reach Northwestern Michigan College where she is enrolled and to a big box store where she works. Her experience with the Link is that it hasn’t been reliable enough to make class or work on time.
The Link got me into work today in great time. But I and others do have stories of how it hasn’t always worked well. I’m lucky that I often have more flexibility and can just work on the bus, pounding away at my computer.
Meanwhile, staff at BATA have reached out to me to let me knows ways, a year ago, that they did try to get some feedback from riders in the southern part of the county. It wasn’t exactly what I meant, and I have loads of ideas on how people might be more effectively reached. But I do want to make it clear that BATA employees care.
The task ahead for building more robust service is awareness-building and giving BATA more input on how the system can best serve our area. Please contact me – and BATA – if this is of interest to you.
I love being able to read, work, and meet neighbors on the bus. BATA has made so many improvements. They can make many more if more people give it a try and if BATA is able to hear from more of us.