Bringing Together Local Stakeholders and Industry Experts at ‘Buses without Borders’

Traverse City was buzzing with conversations on regional transit connectivity Monday, February 24 at Buses Without Borders, an event hosted by Trans4M Core Member Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI). The event featured presentations from Kirk Steudle, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT); Representative Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Roger Millar from Smart Growth America and Jay Flint from the Northwest Oregon Transit Alliance. They discussed the importance of creating a strong, connective transportation system throughout Northwest Michigan.

More than 100 people, including transit advocates, urban planners, policy makers and other community stakeholders, turned out to learn and discuss how to better connect the transit services in Northwest Michigan.

The unique event brought together local stakeholders with state and national industry experts to discuss ways to create more cohesion among the region’s five transit agencies: Bay Area Transit Authority, Antrim County Transportation, Benzie Bus, Kalkaska Public Transit Authority and Cadillac-Wexford Transit Authority. While these systems efficiently serve their individual jurisdictions, the region lacks connectivity and cohesion among these neighboring agencies.

The event began with Steudle discussing the Grand Vision, the citizen-initiated plan that is designed to guide the future of Northwest Michigan. Transportation advocates were happy to see that the first of its six guiding principles is fostering “a regional multi-modal transportation system that supports energy conservation.”

Panelists speak to transit advocates and regional stakeholders at the Buses Without Borders event.

Panelists speak to transit advocates and regional stakeholders at the Buses Without Borders event.

With a few nods to transportation matters across the state, Steudle talked about the RTA in Detroit and how the state should support this effort from all corners of our peninsulas. Schmidt spoke about the need for fixing the roads and Millar highlighted our state’s current economic situation as an opportunity for creative solutions in transportation.

Speakers discussed how to push the limits of the Grand Vision to use transportation to grow the regional economy and Millar highlighted the importance of bringing important stakeholders to the table.

“If you don’t do stuff with people, they assume you’re doing stuff to them,” Millar explained. The support of both the business community and residential community is necessary in order for a system to be effective.

Much of the day’s conversations surrounded the idea of creating a transit alliance in Northwest Michigan among the five service agencies.  Jay Flint shared his insight about working with the Northwest Oregon Transit Alliance and discussed the benefits and challenges of a transit alliance. As discussed during the event, alliances are better suited for agencies that are already willing to coordinate their services across county lines.

James Bruckbauer, Transportation Policy Specialist with MLUI, explained that, “Instead of creating an authority, which may force the local agencies to lose their local identity, transit leaders [in Northwest Michigan] are looking at creating an alliance which would allow the agencies to keep their own brand and service but still offer better cross-county service.” This would allow the five agencies to save time and money, “It’s how our local agencies can provide better service for the customer.”

The Northwest Oregon Transit Alliance seems to be a perfect example for Northwest Michigan to draw from – it’s the conjunction of five separate transit agencies as one integrated transit system with different forms of public transportation. Additionally, the Northwest Oregon Transit Alliance has a major focus on economic development which is driver to connect transit systems in Northwest Michigan.

Buses Without Borders brought together local and regional stakeholders with industry leaders to catalyze transportation collaboration and build on the creative initiatives that Northwest Michigan and State transportation experts are working on. Stay tuned to our blog for further updates about the development of a regional transit alliance in Northwest Michigan.

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Written by: Kajal Ravani and Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellows

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