OUR VIEW: Transit initiative not ready for prime time

By Daily News • Last Updated 2:59 pm on Monday, November 21, 2011

There’s no doubt Montcalm County needs a transportation system.
We’re all aware of the economic difficulties our community has faced over the past decade.

Unemployment chronically has remained in double digits because there aren’t enough jobs. Many of us with jobs are seeing costs for insurance, gasoline, groceries and other necessities rise much faster than our wages. The number of elderly, low-income and poverty stricken people around is climbing at an alarming rate.

With that brings more people who can’t afford to buy or operate a vehicle. There are few options for them now unless they live in the city of Greenville and only travel around Greenville. That means they can’t hold down a job, can’t make doctor’s appointments, can’t visit the library and can’t get any of life’s necessities.

Montcalm County’s layout exacerbates the situation for them. Most of the largest population centers are located on the outer fringes of the county, far from the county seat in the center. The trip from Greenville, Carson City, Howard City and Edmore to Stanton, where many essential government services are located, is quite long.

This is where a countywide transportation system would step in.

Voters across Montcalm County, except in the city of Greenville, will vote on whether to create such a system on Tuesday. Greenville already offers a transportation system, which will remain intact regardless of Tuesday’s vote.

The countywide system would cost taxpayers 0.3 mills for three years. That cost is nominal, just 30 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. Of course, it’s just one more thing for people to pay for, but the cost is little and payback is great.

What concerns us is the lack of specificity with the Montcalm County Transportation Authority’s plan. Very key elements are missing, such as who actually would operate the buses? Negotiations are ongoing with Greenville to build a countywide system separate from the existing city transit system. There’s no guarantee a deal will be worked out, which would require the authority to make a deal with a private business or launch its own system from scratch.

Whether Greenville officially will be involved in the countywide system and how the city’s role would be structured could influence many voters.

Also lacking are specifics of how and when the buses would operate. Transportation authority members have told us the system would have two tiers: Dial-a-ride buses and buses traveling a fixed route. The dial-a-ride buses would pick up people from their home or destination and bring them to a route bus stop if necessary. The route buses would bring them to a bus stop as close as possible to their destination, where another dial-a-ride bus would finish the trip.

That’s a well-thought-out foundation for the system. But it doesn’t say much about where the fixed routes will run, where bus stops would be located, how often the route buses would make stops. Those factors also could affect some people’s votes.

We also don’t know what size buses the system would use. We’d have a hard time supporting a system with a dozen 30-passenger buses driving all over the county. Using vans for the dial-a-ride portion would be much more palatable, but again is not guaranteed.

We like the idea of countywide transportation. It can be a good thing for our county. But we can’t ask our readers to support spending their hard-earned money when we’re not entirely sure of where it’s going.

Editorial opinions are a consensus of The Daily News editorial board.

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