Guest Post: Mason Bus Line — Sources of Ridership Demand Outside of Traditional Commutes

The following guest post was written by Dan Sommerville, Policy Associate at the Michigan Environmental Council (a Trans4M member). 

Results of a survey of Lansing and Mason residents suggests that increased frequency on Capital Area Transportation Authority’s (CATA)Mason Connector Service could be key for individuals physically or legally unable to drive to actively contribute to our economy.

Over this past blustery winter, the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) engaged the cities of Mason and Lansing in a dialogue on the prospect of increased bus service between them in the future. As part of this dialogue, a survey was conducted to increase the knowledge among regional decision makers on the interests and needs that exist, as well as the current transit behavior between Michigan’s state capital and the Ingham County seat.

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CATA bus stop Northbound South Jefferson Street past East Maple Street (Photo Courtesy of Mason Times)

This dialogue and survey wasn’t just another poll on ridership though. We were also seeking something more: We set out to engage community members who are often under-represented in the public planning process. When we got started, we were specifically looking to engage persons aged 65 and over, students, persons with disabilities, and persons at or below poverty. We found not only that there is room for improvement with engaging these often underserved demographics, but also that there are more sources of transit demand that have not yet been explored.

One source of demand in particular is from those in the probation system who often experience driving restrictions that conflict with their ability to meet testing, schooling, and work requirements. While it is easy for someone to dismiss this as a matter of accountability — ‘They should have thought about that before they [insert illegal action(s)]’—it is better for someone who broke the law to have a constructive path to reform than to get caught in a cyclical system of recidivism. A bus schedule that correlates with the timing of 9-5 commuters and folks headed to the 55th District Court or the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department would provide an opportunity not only for new ridership, but also an opportunity for those trying to better their lives.

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CATA Route Map (Map Courtesy of CATA)

Due to the relatively small scale of this survey, the results cannot be generalized for the populations of Lansing or Mason. What these results can do is inform future efforts to study mass transit growth in the Mason-Lansing corridor, as they identify potential opportunities for public transit growth between these two cities. These opportunities include:

  • There is sizeable room for ridership growth with added transit frequency within the corridor.
  • There are other significant sources of transit demand in the corridor that are yet to be identified.
  • Transit service between Mason and Lansing can help individuals without the option to drive to contribute to our economy.
  • Increased bus service could support better access to jobs in Lansing and Mason.
  • A new demographic not initially identified was engaged by the survey: individuals on probation who frequently experience conflicting restrictions on their travel and requirements concerning work, school, or testing.

We look forward to continuing to work with CATA, the cities of Mason and Lansing, and other area stakeholders to not only engage these often under-represented folks in the public planning process, but also to develop plans that support their positive involvement in our communities.

Copies of the full report, “Getting There: Mason Public Transit Survey Analysis,” can be found online here. The work that went into facilitating this dialogue and survey and producing the analysis was funded by the Mid-Michigan Program for Greater Sustainability (MMPGS).

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