As the Odyssey rapidly approaches, we at Trans4M are anticipating the differences we will experience from the first Odyssey. As Hayley Roberts from the Michigan Suburbs Alliance told us, “Last year, the Odyssey was a bit of a mystery–a small group had done a trial run but we didn’t really know how the trip would play out.” As Trans4M has a stronger grasp on how this trip will go we wanted to know- what will be the new challenges? Will the trip be easier than the previous year? What are our biggest obstacles?
This year, we have eight travelers who will answer these questions for us by riding the entire journey: Tim Fischer (Michigan Environmental Council), Kathryn Gray (Trans4M), Dan Sommerville (MEC), Liz Truetel (Trans4M), Heather Seyfarth (Clean Energy Coalition), Hayley Roberts (Michigan Suburbs Alliance), George Hanley (MI Developmental Disabilities Council), Paul Palmer (MI Developmental Disabilities Council) and Kay Chase (Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers). Our diverse travelers come from different regions of Michigan with a range of knowledge on transportation policy.
Kathryn, who will be traveling on the Odyssey for her first time, is excited to showcase the various groundbreakings that have happened over the last year. “There are so many great things that Michigan has been doing to support a 21st century transportation infrastructure; it is great to be celebrating some of our great accomplishments while also noting the areas in which we could be doing better.”
Both Tim and Hayley traveled the Odyssey last year. Hayley is hoping to see more reliable internet access on our various modes of transit, “…it was difficult to document a journey sharing one wi-fi hotspot between several people all trying to blog and tweet their experiences! I wonder if any of the modes–especially Amtrak–will have upped their connectivity game this year.”
Another concern echoed by many: will we get to all of our destinations on time? “Connecting the journey using the various transportation options may present the biggest challenge. I am interested to see how well it all coordinates given our our time constraints. If one transportation mode runs late, that puts behind the entire rest of the trip ,” Heather said. Our Friday relies on our buses leaving and arriving at their destinations on time; we don’t have much room for delays. However, this challenge is one that we embrace because good or bad, it will help illustrate strengths or shortcomings of our transit system. And that is what the Odyssey is all about.
Another change this year is that we are traveling with persons who have disabilities. These two travelers will assess the accessibility of the various transit modes for those in in wheelchairs. George Hanley, one of two travelers who is in a wheelchair, explains his three concerns: “…the logistics of travel with a manual wheelchair, which (Trans4M) hasn’t dealt with before; the fact that this trip will be much more difficult because there is no statewide para-transit (transportation that does not follow fixed routes or schedules; typically minibuses) certification; and last, it is important to me that I be looked at as ‘one of the guys’, and not separately due to my circumstances.”
Kathryn, who has been coordinating the logistics for this event, has noticed the increased difficultly in securing accessible transportation options for the Odyssey wheelchair participants. When researching accessible transportation options for George and Paul to meet us in Traverse City to begin the Odyssey, it would’ve been over a 10 hour trip on Indian Trails. While Indian Trails does provide accessible transportation to accommodate two wheelchairs, the option was still inaccessible because for health reasons George and Paul need to stop every hour. In the end, we needed to go with a private transportation option that could accommodate these needs – which cost over $700 – something that most people could not afford.
Anticipation is high for this trip. We’ll give out “Trans4Mer” awards to cities that have produced groundbreaking events; we’ll do the trip in two days rather than three; and we’ve incorporated non-motorized transportation. “With the plan to connect trails statewide, Michigan’s natural beauty can become even more attractive to potential residents and visitors. Showcasing these assets as part of our transportation network can also help people rethink their own ideas of what “transportation” means in their daily lives,” Hayley said.
We are all excited to see how the trip will pan out. As Dan puts it, “I am excited to experience intercity passenger transportation through three corners of the Mitten. We work hard every day to improve Michigan’s transportation system, and it will be good to see firsthand how far we have come, as well as the opportunities still out there for us to conquer.”
Check out the Odyssey itinerary and feel free to follow along with our adventure by following us on the MapaPal App and on twitter @t4michigan!
Written by Kajal Ravani – Trans4M Fellow