Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Bata Turns the Corner
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Bata Turns the Corner

With Loop and Link, Traverse City’s bus service has become a viable alternative for more commuters

Patrick Sullivan - March 24th, 2014  
The Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) has come a long way since its days of operating dial-a-ride buses that scooted around Traverse City seemingly empty.

Significant financial and organizational changes have increased ridership and pulled the agency out of debt, with enough cash in reserve to keep the system running for months.

Out of nowhere, it seems, Traverse City has a real mass transit system.


In 2008, BATA lost $357,000 and was $400,000 in debt. Cash flow was $20,000, about enough to keep buses running for half of a day.

BATA’s funding comes from four sources: a five-year millage passed in 2012 which provides 37 percent of the budget; state funding which provides 36 percent; and federal funds which cover 16 percent, said Matthew Powis, BATA finance director.

The rest – 11 percent – comes from the fare boxes.

“We could maybe operate until noon if they stopped funding,” said Carrie Thompson, BATA’s business director.

In 2009, Tom Menzel became the authority’s executive director after a successful three-year stint running the National Cherry Festival.

That year, BATA made $157,000. In 2010, the agency paid off all of its debt.

By 2012 they had enough cash in reserve for buses to run for three months.


Anyone who has been a regular rider of BATA has noticed lots of changes, from the way the buses are painted and routes are marked to the way the fares are collected.

BATA is still just catching its breath from all of the recent technology that’s been added, paid for through grants, Menzel said.

They’ve gotten surveillance cameras on buses to cut down on liability and so that drivers can concentrate on driving. They’ve installed mobile data terminals and electronic fare boxes. They’ve redesigned the buses and route signs so the system is easier to use.

Mobile data terminals will be able to monitor on-time performance and BATA will be able to analyze how many and what kind of riders are getting on at each stop.

Menzel said he is excited about the capabilities the organization now has to analyze ridership and improve service.

“It’s been a real challenge for an organization that was in the 1970s to come up to 2013 and ‘14 within 18 months,” he said.


New programs have also come online to increase efficiency and slash fraud.

For example, riders now have to apply to get a reduced fare card. Students, senior citizens and the disabled are eligible.

“Before that, I’ll give you one example,” Menzel said. “One run we had about 169 people everyday. We never had more than 10 full-paying passengers. People would get on and say, ‘Oh, I’m disabled. Prove I’m not.’ The first day we instituted that, [there were] 59 full-paying passengers.”

They’ve established no-show penalties for dial-a-ride users who can now get barred from the system for repeatedly not taking rides they’ve called for.

Before that policy BATA never kept track of no-shows, which are costly because they cause buses to make trips for nothing.

In the first few weeks of the policy, BATA counted 127 no-shows.

“Public transit is not a God-given right; it’s a responsibility for them as well,” Mezel said. “If they want us to have a good system that’s fair and equitable, and gives the taxpayers a good return on their money, there has to be responsibility on the ridership.”

Another change was the electronic fare boxes. The boxes were clear and had a slot for tickets and money. People would deposit anything: washers, Jamaican coins, tokens from Chuck E. Cheese.

“A rider could essentially get on with a fist like this and just dump it,” Powis said. “If it makes a noise after they release, there’s no way to determine what they put in there.”

Now cash and cards are validated when inserted into the electronic fare boxes.

“You can’t cheat,” Menzel said. Revenues increased by 11 percent.


“We literally have changed every aspect of this organization,” Menzel said. “Basically it started as a rural transit agency, where most [transit authorities] start as urban and then branch out. So it was in reverse.”

Some new features at BATA have been specifically designed to attract new riders.

They’ve offered shuttle service during festivals. They’ve offered the bike-and-ride route to Suttons Bay for people who want to try out the Leelanau Trail but only want to ride one way. They are considering a bikeand-ski service.

“It can’t just be for any niche market.

It’s public transit,” he said. “We need to have a system that the mother with two kids in Slabtown, who wants to go to the Open Space, has the ability to use that in a convenient, timely manner.”


Bus ridership in Traverse City has been on an upward trend, surpassing national averages.

From 2003 to 2013, BATA provided 52.5 percent more rides; from 2010 to 2013, ridership increased 20.6 percent.

Most importantly is that the proportion of riders on fixed-route Loop buses has increased relative to dial-a-riders, or Link riders.

In a decade, those percentages roughly flipped – in 2003, 40 percent of riders took fixed-route buses and 60 percent called dial-a-ride. By 2013, 60 percent were on a fixed-route.

What’s more, the changes BATA enacted last May when the Loop and Link routes were rolled out seem to already paid off.

If numbers hold steady through the end of fiscal year 2014, riders on fixed-route buses are projected to total 83 percent of riders.

The new system of Loop and Link buses was designed so that people in rural areas could still call a dial-a-ride bus for a ride to the nearest stop on the Loop, rather than a ride to their destination or to the Hall St. hub.

Menzel said he hopes to make BATA operate more like an urban transit service. The more riders that opt for fixed routes, the more the bus fares can cover the organization’s bottom line.


The new policies caused “lots of noise, Menzel said, because the of pushback from riders who didn’t want to change. But he believes that will be temporary. BATA has studied the aftermath of big changes at other mass transit systems.

“What we’ve found is, after it’s in about six to nine months, no more problems,” Menzel said.

Menzel said he also had to get buy-in from the employees as well.

“If the drivers, dispatchers and mechanics don’t buy into the change process, organizations will sabotage it,” Menzel said.

Menzel and his team scrapped the organizational chart and rewrote all of the job descriptions; everyone had to reapply for their jobs. Employees took a BATA-created customer service training program.

Menzel renegotiated the union contract and got some big concessions, like a clause that the loser has to pay in arbitration battles, which makes the sides more cautious before starting fights. Also, pay increases are now based on profitability.

“So the driver who used to let the bus run for 30 minutes turns it off now, because he can see the bottom line,” Menzel said. “It’s precedent-setting labor agreement, but it’s based on being successful and everyone shares in it.”


So what has changed for the person who lives, say, 15 miles out of town and several miles off of a main road?

“They can still get a ride. The thing is, they have do it in an available time slot. And we have quite a few of those,” Thompson said. “So the difference for them is instead of us picking them up at their door and taking them all the way down to the Hall Street transfer station, we are going to pick them up and take them to the closest fixed route, and that’s how you get into town.”

They also have to arrange the ride 24 hours ahead of time so that pickup service can be better coordinated.

Powis said the number of buses operating as dial-a-ride buses have been reduced from 13 to six.

In fact, the new structure has reduced the total miles buses have to travel to get riders to their destination.

“You can feed into the system and work your way down to wherever you want to go, so it’s much more efficient,” Menzel said. “The result was much more consistency in the system, but also we saved about 55,000 miles [per year] and a hundred and some thousand to the bottom line, so the result was, without increasing cost, we increased our service for three hours each night, and added weekend service for the first time.”


Susen Love had been a BATA rider for years, using buses to get to shops or her doctor’s office.

“It’s been pretty good,” she said. “There for a while, they always had a problem with being on time, but it’s not that way anymore, at least on this type of route.”

Love said she is a bit nervous about the plan to revise the city Loops this year based on feedback from users, neighborhoods, employers, and the data about BATA use.

“They’re going to change the routes again, they said by fall. We’ll see,” she said. “Right now they’re working well.”

The system isn’t perfect. It’s based on a series of compromises which enable the routes to spread out around Traverse City. Depending on where you are and where you want to go, it may look ingenious or difficult to use.

For instance, Love lives in an apartment near Meijer on US 31 South. To get to the mall, she takes the Meijer/Oleson’s bus to the Hall Street station and transfers to a Grand Traverse Mall bus. That means, even though the mall is just more than a mile away from her apartment, it takes her an hour of bus travel each way to travel there.

She hopes the routes don’t change, though.

The route nearest her home travels by Munson Medical Center, so she can currently get to doctors’ appointments without having to transfer.

“I just hope when they change it again, they don’t change the route that I am on,” Love said.


Gary Vidor, who started with BATA in 2010 as a driver and is now a trainer, drove some of the popular bike-and-ride routes to Suttons Bay last summer and said he was delighted to see how enthusiastic people were to ride a BATA bus.

“You just didn’t hear a lot of good things about it [in the past],” he said. “Today, I have friends who ride it all the time and say it’s changed to such a user-friendly system.”

Vidor has lived in Traverse City for 30 years and said he is familiar with the reputation BATA used to have.

He said the changes have been tough, but he has also noticed improvements that have come as a result.

“I actually came in here in the early stages of the changes. I’ve been through a lot of it,” Vidor said. “I think the state of the company is greatly improved.”

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