Ingemar Johansson, a member of Song Of The Lakes, has been involved in the issue of public transportation or the lack of in the county for years. Here are his thoughts on the need for busing in Benzie.
NE: Why do you feel this is an important issue for the people in Benzie?
Johansson: A healthy and vibrant community needs to have transportation for everyone. A professional study we commissioned in April 2002 showed that public transportation needs are going largely unmet in Benzie County; with poorly funded service that today is limited only to seniors and people with disabilities.
In presenting the Benzie Bus plan to hundreds of Benzie County residents in the last two years, my fellow volunteers and I have heard time and time again that most people know someone who needs a ride to get to the doctor or the grocery store, that soaring gas prices are squeezing family budgets, and that some local residents simply cannot afford a reliable vehicle in order to get to work. Some cannot drive because of age or disability and need a hand.
Businesses, meanwhile, say they need employees who can make it to work reliably every day. The Benzie Bus system is designed to meet those needs and support dignity, economic security, and independence in the lives of Benzie County residents.
NE: How much will it cost?
Johansson: The ballot will seek a 0.5 mil property tax for five years. It would cost the owner of a $150,000 no more than $37.50 a year, or about a dime a day.
NE: How will it work?
Johansson: The Benzie Bus system would consist of five buses and one van, all accessible to the general public, seniors, and people with disabilities. It would operate countywide from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, with daily express roundtrips to Traverse City and Manistee as well. With voter approval, buses would start running in early 2007.
NE: How much will it cost to ride?
Johansson: A dial-a-ride bus would pick you up at your curb and take you any place in Benzie County for $2 per one-way trip, $1 for seniors and people with disabilities. A daily express bus on U.S. 31 would cost more and take riders to Traverse City or Manistee and back.
NE: Who will run it?
Johansson: In April, the Benzie County Commissioners voted unanimously to form the new Benzie Transportation Authority and appointed 10 county residents to direct the independent public body. If funded by county voters, the transportation authority would combine local revenues with more than $400,000 a year in state and federal matching funds to develop and run the Benzie Bus system. The Benzie Transportation Authority and its board of directors are independent of the county board and will be insured to bear sole legal and financial liability for the bus system.
NE: Isnt there some kind of bus service in the county already?
Johansson: The Benzie County Council on Aging operates a very limited dial-a-ride service for seniors and people with disabilities only. If the bus proposal passes, it would absorb the current service.
NE: What kind of response have you gotten from the community?
Johansson: In the last few months, the Benzie Bus campaign has gained dozens of new endorsements. Support is booming among businesses, civic groups, and local residents all across the county. We have presented plans for the bus system to several hundred Benzie County residents at meetings of civic, business, and non-profit groups and government. The feedback we received resulted in a revised and better plan, with expanded hours so that people can ride the bus to work, extracurricular activities, the doctor, local shops, or other destinations.
NE: Who is sponsoring the Benzie Bus initiative?
Johansson: The Benzie County Council on Aging, the Benzie County Human Services Collaborating Body, the Northern Michigan Alliance for Independent Living, Manistee-Benzie Community Mental Health, the Benzie Ministerial Association, and the Michigan Land Use Institute have spent the last several years evaluating the countys need for public transportation and developing a plan to meet it. Crystal Mountain Resort, Graceland Fruit, Inc. and Honor State Bank are three of over forty businesses that have endorsed the plan.
NE: Where can someone find out more information?
Johansson: Local residents in early May formed a new group called Friends of the Benzie Bus to promote a yes vote, they are meeting every Tuesday, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, 900 Barber Street, Benzonia. Or they can contact me at (231) 882-2150 or via email at HYPERLINK mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out our website at HYPERLINK www.benziebus.org.