2017-04-06 / Front Page

Support mixed as BATA seeks higher millage

Opponents question ridership
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


TYLER BEVIER, transporation planner for the Bay Area Transportation Authority. TYLER BEVIER, transporation planner for the Bay Area Transportation Authority. A proposal to increase a property tax rate by 45 percent to fund the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) has mixed support.

Voters in Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties will be asked on May 2 to approve a .5-mill levy through 2022. The agency’s current levy of .3447 mills, rolled back from .35 mills, will expire on Dec. 31, 2017.

Users who depend on BATA for transportation support the proposal. Others in the community oppose the millage request claiming it doesn’t make financial sense.

Hunter Reed, 23, used BATA often while attending Glen Lake Community School. He is legally blind and is autistic.

Reed used the service to get to the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School’s ACE (Adult Community Experience) program, which helps students with mild cognitive impairments transition to adult life.


DON BARROWS of Elmwood Township paid for this sign expressing his opposition to the Bay Area Transportation Authority millage request. The election is May 2. DON BARROWS of Elmwood Township paid for this sign expressing his opposition to the Bay Area Transportation Authority millage request. The election is May 2. “It helps me maintain independence,” said the 2013 Glen Lake graduate, who moved to Traverse City in February and lives by himself. “I use it to go get groceries, to work out, go to the mall or visit family.”

Reed attends BATA Board of Director meetings to provide input. He said his comments are heard.

“Without BATA, I’d have to depend on my parents to help me out,” he said. “That’s why I hope the millage passes.”

The agency conducted a needs assessment in 2016 and received input from 700 people in the two-county area about the services they’d like to receive.

In Leelanau County, respondents made a specific request.

Currently, county users have two options from which to choose: the Village Loop and Village Link programs, according to Eric Lingaur, communications director of BATA.

Two “loop” routes are in place in Leelanau. The Eastern loop carries riders to and from Traverse City and Northport with stops in between. The Traverse City to Empire loop provides stops in Maple City and Glen Arbor.

The loops recorded 24,190 riders last year. Route 10, which follows the east shore of the county, was the busiest with 15,606 rides in 2016. The route from Traverse City to Empire provided 8,584 rides.

The Link system provides “dial-aride” service, picking up riders on demand and transporting them to their intended destination. Last year total link ridership in Leelanau County was 16,869, Lingaur said.

Three buses assigned to the Link program pick up riders in the county. The busiest dial-a-ride bus operates in western Grand Traverse County and southern Leelanau County with ridership of 3,995 people.

The eastern link bus provided 3,952 rides. The third route, covering the same territory as Route 11, recorded 2,922.

Critics say the system is inefficient.

John Imboden, a retired financial analyst living near Cedar, says ridership numbers don’t add up for him.

“I’m not against all forms of public transportation. It’s just that I was originally trained as a financial analyst making me something of a skeptic,” he said. “I have been struck by seeing empty buses driving around what’s essentially a rural county.”

Don Barrows of Elmwood Township questioned how often the service is used as well.

“The buses run up and down the road and they’re empty,” he said.

Barrows paid for a large sign posted on M-22 south of Crane Hill Road that reads, “Standing on the corner watching empty buses go by. Vote No.”

It’s a frequent criticism that BATA tries to address on its website.

“BATA ridership varies throughout the day, similar to traffic on area roadways… Not all of BATA’s buses are filled to capacity consistently,” the agency’s website states. “While the link system may only have two to four passengers on board at a time, the loop service is often near capacity.”

For years Suttons Bay resident Pete Ostrowski used BATA to get to work in Traverse City. He bought his bike, which he rode home on the Leelanau Trail.

“It allowed us to have just one car,” said Ostrowski, who recently retired.

More recently, he rode the bus to Traverse City to pick up a vehicle that was being repaired.

“BATA has served me well. I’ll vote to support it,” he said.

The millage question will also go before voters in Grand Traverse County. However, it doesn’t have to pass in both communities — just the total of the two counties combined.

If approved, property owners currently paying $34 a year for a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would see a $16 increase in taxes paid.

If approved the millage will raise $3.6 million in 2018.

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