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Local Elections 2012: Friends of Transit talks about transportation proposal

Friends of Transit answered some tough questions to help our local citizens understand the City of Walker Proposal for Withdrawal from Interurban Transit Partnership.
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/Courtesy of Friends of Transit

Our politics beat asked Friends of Transit some questions for our Rapidian readers. We hope they help you to get informed about some of the issues surrounding the City of Walker Proposal for Withdrawal from Interurban Transit Partnership. See below the questions and their answers.

Our politics beat asked Walker Yes the same set of questions. See their responses here.

Can you please tell me about this proposal?

Friends of Transit: "On November 6 the voters of Walker will vote on a proposal to withdraw from the Interurban Transportation Partnership (ITP) in which it has been an active partner for the past 12 years, thus terminating all public transportation services in Walker when the current millage runs out."

Is it important to keep the current transit system in place?

FoT: "Maintaining membership in this regional public transportation system is critical for Walker. There are currently four fixed routes that wind through Walker connecting Walker to the region wide Rapid bus system.

In 2011 there were 2.3 million rides in, to or through Walker on these routes. Ridership, system wide has grown over the past few years at an amazing rate of 10% a year. Many of these rides are to and from work as a rider’s only means of getting to employment.

Seniors increasingly rely upon this system as their only way of getting to and from stores, and medical care...Without this system residents in Walker would lose jobs, employers would lose valuable employees, businesses would lose customers, some residents would be forced to sell their homes and move to communities that do provide transit services.

As a city, Walker would lose critical and necessary income tax dollars from residents whose jobs depend on this service and from employees who can no longer come into Walker to work...Walker would find itself disconnected from the thriving metropolitan area. Without being a partner in the regional public transit system it will simply be left out.

All responsible studies tell us that urban living in the future will demand more and better walkability with stronger and wider transit systems. So as a country we are going in one direction; Walker risks going in the opposite direction. It is critical that Walker retain a viable public transit system."

How would this proposal affect Walker?

FoT: "If this proposal is approved it will be devastating to Walker. The proponents of this proposal claim that the reason they want to withdraw as a partner in the ITP is because they have a “plan” to design and implement a leaner, meaner, more efficient and locally controlled transit system.

Of course, if this promise were true that would be great. But the promise of a new more efficient, leaner and meaner locally designed and controlled system is at best an illusion. At the worst it is a fraud on the voters of Walker. The absolutely clear fact is that there is no plan whatsoever for a new transit system.

While the proponents say the City government will build a new system, the City has made it very clear that they do not have the knowledge, experience and skill to design a mass transit system – certainly not from the ground up. The City has also made it very clear that they do not have the money to build a new system.

There is no process underway to build a new system and there is no plan to plan for a new system. And, if they were to redesign a new system how could we possible conclude that it would be more efficient than the current system that has been in operation for decades?

The proponents suggest that maybe what Walker would do if the proposal is approved, is go back to the ITP and buy back the services. If Walker were to do that we now know from the Rapid reports that the cost of the services is $1,507,000...That would mean that Walker taxpayers would actually end up paying approximately $200,000 more for the same services they are getting today (today Walker taxpayers pay approximately $1.3 million in tax for the ITP services).

The entire proposal is reckless and disrupts the lives of many of our residents, undermines the economics of many of our employers and businesses, and risks the future of Walker."

What does an informed voter need to know about this proposal?

FoT: "The informed voter needs to know that if this proposal is approved Walker will simply no longer have public transportation in the city. It is dead. The promise to replace it with a new system is illusory, reckless, and foolish. Do not be deceived. There is no leaner, meaner, more efficient transit system at the end of the rainbow."

What do you think of the broader Grand Rapid transit system? Who does it serve? What are the strengths, and where does it need to improve?

FoT: "The Rapid has shown itself to be innovative, aggressive and active in its pursuit of new services and approaches to transit. It is experiencing unprecedented growth and demand. It is the only regional alternative to connect the various communities that make up this vibrant region.

Having said that, like any organization of this size and complexity, the ITP can always improve on its efficiency and service. It will always have personnel issues and ways in which it can improve. But instead of sitting on the side and taking pot shots at the Rapid, we support staying in the partnership, rolling up our sleeves and working with our partners to make it better."

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