Route 33 improves transit experience for Walker city riders

In Michigan 1.4 percent of the population use public transportation. While this number may be very small, it still represents real people who depend on options such as the bus to get where they need to go. In Grand Rapids, those people are serviced by The Rapid. With the city growing and the needs of the rider changing, The Rapid is working to stay up to date with the needs of its customers to make sure the community is taken care of. A community leader, The Rapid has focused on meeting riders' needs such as when it realigned its Route 33 to meet the needs of commuters.
Route 33 a Rapid express service built for businesses in the Walker area. Those who ride this line can also access the RapidConnect. Route 33 started as a deviation from Route 9 that required a transfer, but riders said finding the route was confusing and long.

“Our hope for creating this line was ultimately to remove workforce barriers, and improve the connection between talented employees and their employers,” says Cassi Cooper, engagement and digital outreach specialist for The Rapid. “We play a fundamental role in promoting employer and employee connectivity across the six cities that we operate in. We ensure fair opportunities for all residents to access their workplaces in a way that's also environmentally sustainable.”

Through the use of community engagement, Route 33 was relaunched this past August starting directly from The Rapid’s Central Station with multiple stops in front of business, including a Walker city industrial park featuring Spectrum, CK Snacks/Cheese Kurls Inc, and MiEN Company. This new route has cut transit time by 25 minutes and drives over the highway on 131 north and south and 96 east and west.
The Rapids' CEO Deborah Prato kicks off the listening session with Walker businesses
“Thirty-three was a result of The Rapid’s commitment to being customer-led. In 2019 we had a comprehensive operational analysis of two on-demand zones, which would go on to become our Rapid Connect service in Walker and Kentwood industrial areas,” says Cooper. 

Both changes went into effect in January 2022. However, The Rapid heard loud and clear requests from Walker businesses and the community at large for a regular fixed route service to better fit their needs.

“When our customers talk, we listen,” Cooper says. “Based on the feedback provided by the businesses and those using 33, we found an improved way to run this route that better suited their needs.”

Riders have responded positively to the change.

“I was riding this route for almost six months before the express route change,” says Spencer Young, a catalog assistant for MiEN Company, a business serviced by Route 33. “I was also pretty underwhelmed with the fact that I was once again at the mercy of the central station for my transferring needs, rather than simply transferring to the bus I needed to at Leonard/Alpine. In hindsight, however, this move has cut 30 minutes out of my commute in each direction.”

The improvement of Route 33 is owed to many different parties, Cooper says. Business owners who have stops on Route 33 were instrumental in the planning and revamping of the line. Eighteen-plus employers filled out surveys provided by The Rapid, detailing what would best serve their employee base. They also provided anonymized addresses for their employees, so The Rapid planning department could pinpoint where riders were coming from and, therefore, create the best route for the real people using the system.
The Rapid's Community Relations Specialist Wardell Frazier
“We had no idea we were going to be meeting with that many employers. There was an even bigger need for public transit than we thought in that area. Collecting all of this feedback was awesome for us,” says Wardell Frazier Jr., community relations specialist and the external government affairs department. “Our comprehensive analysis was telling us that operating public transit in that specific area (Walker and Kentwood) needed to be in the form of our RapidConnect program, which is the on-demand service. But those 18-plus businesses we connected with told us the opposite — that they would love to have a fixed route. The communication has been great.”

Every employer that participated in the community outreach phase of the new Route 33 was instrumental in creating the route riders use today. 

“I probably wouldn't have accepted this job with MiEN had it not been for Route 33. As someone reliant on public transit, I had to disqualify any job out here in the Northridge Industrial Area before the creation of Route 33,” says Young, an avid Rapid rider. “The creation of this bus route ended a drought of joblessness that I had sustained for three years. Now you can say you have a direct case where Route 33 led to employment.”
Dave Krombeen of Cheese Kurls and Chris Litvack of Flexco
But it was not just employers that came together to create Route 33. 

“It's really been our Walker city board members who have been huge transit advocates, continuously seeking opportunities to support and improve access,” says Cooper. “Everyone, including Mayor (Gary) Carey, working together was so helpful during the research phase of Route 33. Due to their active engagement we were provided with contacts that allowed our team to make those initial connections and start the whole process of developing Route 33.”
Walker's Mayor Carey and The Rapids' CEO Deborah Prato
So far general opinion on the new and improved Route 33 has been good. Including business owners and their employees in the planning process has allowed for riders to see their real life needs in their bus route. However, as a customer-led organization, The Rapid is always looking toward the future. 

“I would love to see Route 33 being used as a tool for employee recruitment efforts. I think it would be cool to see if we could explore and expand (the route) into other areas. I think [it] will come, but we just have to see how things are working out now and we can go from there,” says Frazier Jr. “The other thing is that Route 33 is not just servicing employers. It’s helping with access to housing and helping those searching for educational opportunities as well,” he adds.

“I would love for the narrative for Route 33 to not just always focus on employment but to branch out and focus on the route serving those individuals who are seeking housing, those individuals who are seeking to further their education, and whatever other areas that exist and could use Route 33 as a tool,” Frazier Jr. says.

Voices for Transit is a series highlighting public transportation in Greater Grand Rapids by exploring the issues that diverse communities face, lifting up the voices of residents, employers and stakeholders.

This series is underwritten by The Rapid and is editorially independent in our exploration of these themes.
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