When it comes to public transit in the greater Grand Rapids area, it's not hard to find things to be thankful for. You can ask just about anyone who rides The Rapid and they'll have a pretty quick answer. "It's convenient" is one answer reply you might hear. "It gets me where I need to go" is another. From workers to leisure seekers to college students who ride the bus every day, those who rely upon The Rapid are thankful for its existence.
"I am thankful for The Rapid because it is a quick, easy way to get to school," said Molly Cain, a Public Relations student at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). "It saves me time and money because I don't have to get a temporary parking pass and there are convenient pick-up and drop-off locations. In the winter it's nice to have the bus option because the commuter lot can be a long walk when I'm feeling sick or cold." Brrrr.
Emily Prince, a GVSU Psychology major, concurs. "Driving from Grand Rapids to Allendale often can get very expensive, so I like to use The Rapid to save myself some money," she said. "I also love it because there are convenient stops close to my house and buses that go to so many of the places I frequently go."
According to Erin Babson, GVSU's Operations Manager for the downtown Pew Campus and regional centers, between 25,000 and 26,000 bus rides per day are taken by students, surpassing the total enrollment of the university for the first time. Babson said the GVSU's contract with The Rapid also helps the university achieve its sustainability goals, another area of strong interest on the part of riders.
"I'm thankful for The Rapid's support of our Clean Air Action program over the years and for their willingness to provide free bus rides on Clean Air Action Days," said Andrea Faber, Transportation Administrator and Clean Air Action Program Coordinator for Grand Valley Metro Council.
"I'm thankful for the Rapid for so many reasons, (but) mostly for making it easy for me to get around the entire city with a small carbon footprint," said Wendy Reed, Radio Host on Channel 957. Says student Amy Page, "I don't have to drive my car all over Grand Rapids and out to Allendale. Mass transit is good for the environment!"
"I'm thankful for my Rapid vanpool for saving me money, saving the environment and helping me meet some great people," said Roberta King, Vice President for PR and Marketing for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
"I'm thankful for The Rapid because you can put your bike on the front end of the buses and get around town easier," said Lyndsie Post, Account Manager at The Image Group in Holland. "Now if only Grand Rapids were a bit more bike friendly..."
I commute by bike and bus every day, except when I have to do laundry at my parents," said Josh Leffingwell, an employee at Holiday Inn Downtown and a GVSU student. "As a bike commuter, it helps on rainy days…to have a resource that is close by that will get me where I need to go quickly."
"Public transportation is a critical tool in dense urban centers," said Rachel Hood, Executive Director of the West Michigan Environment Action Council and a member of the Metro Mobile 2030 Task Force (MM2030) that developed recommendations for The Rapid's long-range plan this spring. "It enhances the quality of life. There are carbon savings, fossil fuel savings, and the land use issue is very important to me."
"I'm thankful The Rapid is working to build a streetcar system serving the people of Grand Rapids," said Andy Guy, director of metropolitan and environmental initiatives at Wondergem Consulting. "This infrastructure will only accelerate our rise as a great mid-sized American city."
Among great cities against which the Grand Rapids system was compared this year by MM2030 were Portland, Ore., Tuscon, Ariz., and Austin, Texas. Each are considered leaders in mid-sized cities for use of public transit, which can include a mix of buses, street cars and light rail, providing residents and visitors a low-cost transportation alternative.
"I am thankful for the freedom from car payments and maintenance costs that The Rapid provides to many in our community," said Kendra Willis, an educator with the Kent/MSU Extension program. And, for many, driving isn't even an option.
Rachel DeMaagd, who runs Rachel's Little Coffee Shop at 36th and Eastern, said "there are so many people who have difficulty getting around in cars. I'm thankful for the drivers of The Rapid who help people get to work Monday to Friday."
"Why am I thankful for The Rapid? Simply put, transit support jobs," said Andy Johnston, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. "The Rapid moves people to and from work and plays a key role in the economic growth and vitality of our community. We are lucky to have an award-winning system in Kent County."
And all at a cost that is considerably less per Grand Rapids resident than other Michigan cities. Lansing and Saginaw residents pay a 3.0 millage and Ann Arbor pays a capped 2.5 millage for their transit systems. Grand Rapids residents face a 1.12 millage that seems like a bargain in comparison. Although MM2030 plans call for that millage to be doubled over the next 20 years to enlarge service areas, increase service levels and create a downtown streetcar service –the system will still come in at a lower cost than lesser Michigan cities with lesser transit services.
Getting people where they need to go? Check. Reducing the environmental impact and enhancing quality of life? Check, check. Supporting jobs and the economy? Check! Saving people money! Check, please! Now those are some mighty nice reasons to be thankful!