It’s been little more than a week since our Odyssians traveled across the Mitten. We gained a lot of valuable knowledge from the journey. Between late buses, friendly staff, accessibility issues and connections made, here is what we feel are the main take-away points from the journey, along with things to keep in mind for next year.
Something that went very well this year was the incorporation of non-motorized trails as a part of the Odyssey. The trips to TART Trails and the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail were beautiful stops, and they were invaluable in showing how people can use trails to get to their destinations. Trail networks are an exciting new way to link people and towns. The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail is looking to make connections with Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Battle Creek in the future!
Accessibility issues with the Indian Trails buses were an issue on the trip, as outlined in our Day 1 Recap blog post. They have apologized and are reviewing their communications to make sure that they prevent these miscommunications in the future. They were not the only ones who had trouble getting wheelchairs aboard buses. The BATA bus staff was unable use the wheelchair accessible door and could not get George and Paul on the bus for more than an hour.
Since this was our first year traveling with Odyssians in wheelchairs, we anticipated a certain level of difficulty, even though with every trip we double-checked that the drivers were ready for individuals in wheelchairs. We are glad that large organizations such as Indian Trails have been made aware of this miscommunication with their drivers and they will hopefully not have these issues in the future. We would recommend that all transit systems regularly update their employees on how to use the accessibility features of their buses.
Also, this is where we would strongly recommend wheelchair tickets. For persons in wheelchairs, it’s currently a first-come, first-served free-for-all. Most buses only have room for two wheelchair passengers, but sometimes sell more than two tickets to disabled passengers. That must stop.
Another highlight of the trip was was visiting the progressing Silver Line bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Grand Rapids. Many of our travelers wished that they could have seen more of it. Because of the late bus, we were not able to spend the time there that we had allotted for. This brings up a question- should we make it a three-day trip, as it was last year?
Hayley Roberts, Michigan Suburbs Alliance, definitely thinks we should. “I think the main advantage to a three-day Odyssey was the opportunity to spend time talking to and convening with residents, legislators, and media in each city along the way. I am glad we tried a two-day journey, because it’s true that the trip can be done in two days, so it was good to demonstrate the system in that way. But as a spotlight on policy and people, I think three days better allows us to make a splash.”
The Ride Bus in Ann Arbor was also a casualty of a late Amtrak train. (Other than the tardiness toward the end of the ride, the train was a comfortable ride. The only caveat was a malfunctioning AC system and internet access – we are ready for WiFi, Amtrak!) If we had spaced the trip out a bit, there might have been more time for this, and also time for talking with our legislators and transit representatives who came to our Ann Arbor event; instead, we had to rush through the presentations in about thirty minutes.
We also could have avoided being late to our Detroit event, which we came to about 30 minutes late. Though, as our photographer Gary Howe said, “We came all the way from Traverse City. If I was driving, I might have been 30 minutes late, too.” Also, we can argue that there is validity in keeping the trip to two days because it emphasizes problems that the average traveler encounters.
We learned much about those average struggles. On our SMART bus to Detroit from the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, we met three Detroiters who told us about their daily struggles. They explained to us the various ways the city is suffering from the SMART and DDOT systems rolling through the same area, but not working with one another. As a frequent rider, Shanese Slater, said, “It could be a beautiful system if it (DDOT and SMART) worked together.”
And with the final event, hosted by Model D, in Detroit, our 2013 Odyssey came to a close. While the event is over until next year, the lessons that we have learned will guide our work as we continue on!
Written by Kajal Ravani – Trans4M Fellow