Supporters of a millage to fund and expand bus services in the Grand Rapids metro area celebrated a narrow victory last night.
More than 34,000 people cast ballots. It passed by just 136 votes.
David Bulkowski breathed a huge sigh of relief after hours of unclear results. He’s with the Friends of Transit – a political action committee supporting the bus service.
“We are conservative West Michigan. And together these 6 communities have said ‘yep, we want it.”
The bus system, known as The Rapid, will now be able to serve riders later at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday.
It would also help cover the costs of a new rapid transit service with a dedicated bus lane. Funding for the so-called Silverline will come mostly from the state and federal governments.
Since its founding in 2000, The Rapid has grown every year. This year it expects to make more than 10 million trips. The millage is the first step in a 20 year plan to improve service and keep up with demand.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says there are some people he’ll never convince to vote for public transportation. But he says he won’t stop pointing out the good it does for the economy and people’s quality of life.
“It’s our responsibility now to prove to them that this vote was the right vote. That this system is a good system and that it will propel our whole metropolitan area into really a bright new future.”
Heartwell serves on The Rapid’s board of directors, the Interurban Transit Partnership (made up of the 6 cities). Richard Root also sits on the board. He’s the mayor of Kentwood, one of Grand Rapids’ suburbs.
“This is not about partisan politics. This is about a vision of what we can be and how good we can be.”
Root says the cost of personal transportation is going up, and he doesn’t expect people’s demand to get to places will go down. That means, he equates, those metropolitan areas that can work to connect people with where they need to go will have a better chance of success.
“When the service is expanded they’re not going to ask ‘did you vote yes or no on May 3rd?’ Bulkowski adds. “They’re going to say ‘welcome on board’ and that’s what this about; building a great community for all of us.”