Western Herald – On the ballot: Metro Transit

On the ballot: Metro Transit

By Katie Psotka
Western Herald
(Marissa Ingle / Western Herald)

(Marissa Ingle / Western Herald)

Kalamazoo residents will again have the chance to vote whether property owners will pay more taxes to help fund Metro Transit for the next three years.

Last November, a millage was proposed that would have funded all of the county’s transportation services under the Kalamazoo County Transportation Authority. It was defeated.

In May 2009, a 0.4 millage was passed that pays only for the Metro Van, Care-A-Van and bus lines for county residents. The 0.6 millage on Tuesday’s ballot will only apply to citizens of the city of Kalamazoo and pay for city bus lines.

A mill is one dollar of every $1,000 of taxable land.

Claudette Reid, the co-chair for Citizens for Community Transportation, said this millage is undoubtedly important to the future of Metro Transit, as it will ultimately decide whether or not Metro Transit will stay in existence.

“It’s necessary for people who don’t have [the] option of driving,” Reid explained. “People with disabilities or people who have no automobiles need public transit to get to jobs. Most people who take public transportation go to school or to work, so it’s really something that helps to keep everything moving.”

The fact still remains that there are many Kalamazoo residents who would never, and probably never will, set foot on a bus – mostly due to the fact that they do not need to. Many of the people who will end up paying more to keep Metro Transit in existence are the same people who may never use it.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, a group of concerned Metro Transit riders came to Kalamazoo’s City Hall to discuss their feelings, opinions, and ideas about the future direction of Kalamazoo’s Metro Transit System.

William Schomisch, executive director of Kalamazoo Metro Transit System, is not concerned about the election, despite the unpleasant consequences that will take place if the millage does not pass.

“I’m ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the ballot question next Tuesday,” Schomisch said.  “We have had a millage question on the ballot every three years since 1986 and never had less than a 60 percent to 40 percent approval–and sometimes as much as 80 percent.  Our phone bank work for this campaign is showing a positive reaction by Kalamazoo voters.”

Schomisch is even more confident that once the millage does pass, Metro Transit can begin to focus on the changes to the system that its riders deem necessary.

A huge reform of the fare system is currently in the works, said Schomisch. He spent a great deal of the forum discussing the multitude of new changes that Metro Transit wishes to make in the future.

Schomisch discussed new concepts that would make riding the bus simpler. One is a new electronic systems that would make getting on the bus as easy as swiping a card across a pad, putting an end to the use of the old and inefficient punch cards that are currently used.

There is also the idea of new types of bus passes: for a month of unlimited bus use, the cost would be $60. For 9 straight days of unlimited bus use, the cost would be $20. In addition to the unlimited ride bus passes, bus cards with a debit card-like function would serve those who don’t actually ride the bus all that often, but still like the convenience of having only to swipe a card. Schomisch said that these cards would most likely sell for $35, $30 of which will be loaded onto the card for bus fares.

Extended hours is a change that a many of the participants hope to see sometime in the near future. Sunday buses are another hoped-for addition. There was discussion about the actual bus routes, and what people thought could be done to improve them. A popular suggestion was frequency expansion: for example, shortening the duration of time between which buses come, especially on busy routes like Stadium drive.

It is these sorts of problems that are exactly what people like Schomisch aimed to hear in having the public forum.

“The system needs to grow as the community grows—even with this economy we’re facing,” Schomisch said. “We’re going to be employing more and better technology and that is certainly going to improve service efficiency, passenger information services, and customer service.”

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