BATA has been keeping busy with day-to-day operations and planning for the future. With so much to catch up on, I sat down with Eric Lingaur, BATA’s Director of Communications and Development, to get the full scoop!
Ridership & Hiring
Carolyn: By the end of 2019 BATA was breaking ridership records but the pandemic changed that for transit agencies across the country, where do things stand today?
Eric: We were crushing it. Ridership is coming back, but it’s not at pre-pandemic levels yet. Last quarter we did about 71,000 rides, which compared to the previous quarter we had 79,000 rides, so we’re a little bit lower than where we were, and the main reason for that is staffing. We’ve had to cut back on services to meet the level of staffing that we have. Ridership and level of service go hand in hand.
Carolyn: How many drivers do you need to get buses running at pre-2020 levels?
Eric: Staffing-wise, we’re still recruiting drivers. There’s a $10,000 hiring incentive if you sign up to work for us for three years, you’d get it in increments for each year that you stay with BATA. We have new-hire classes at least once a month. Pre-pandemic we had 80 to 90 drivers, and right now we’re at about 70.
But it’s not just drivers, we’re looking for dispatch and scheduling people, and we could use at least one, if not two, mechanics right now. So, it’s staff across the board.
Link on Demand
Carolyn: How has the Link-On Demand (ride-hailing) service been helping people?
Eric: Link covers a 20-square-mile service area. One benefit is how late it runs. Say you took the Bayline into town but you work later into the evening, you can take Link On-Demand home since it runs until 11 o’clock at night.
Carolyn: How many people use the service and what are waiting times like?
Eric: It went from 10,000 to 21,000 year over year, and that’s just for Q3! The reason for this is the efficiency of on-demand transportation: it’s moving people all the time.
We say a bus will be there in 30 minutes or less. Our average wait time for a bus is 17 minutes or less right now. We just promote 30 to be safe.
Carolyn: Groundwork is a member of the program this year, and I just used my Destination Downtown pass the other week on route 12, it was really easy and it was nice not to have to drive myself into town or pay for parking upon arrival. What can you tell us about the program?
Eric: The program launched in 2018 and is managed by the DDA. Parking had become a premium around 2018. The decks were full and it was hard to find permits downtown. With that, there was a suggestion to explore an employer commuter bus pass program.
All the rides are covered out of parking fees collected at meters, parking decks, and from permits, all of that pays for the rides. The cost to participate in the program is based on how many employees a business has. Fees ordinarily would range from $25 to $100 per year, but as an incentive, the DDA has waived all of the business fees for right now.
Transit Master Plan
Carolyn: You recently started the process to create a new transit master plan called Next Wave that will help shape BATA’s services. What’s the status of that?
Eric: We’ve done the community outreach portion, we did a stakeholder engagement session, we’ve done a board presentation, and we’ve gathered feedback from the staff. Nelson Nygaard, our consultant, is putting together the recommendations right now and we should have those by the end of August.
After that, we’ll be going back out to the community to show what’s been identified from the input and say, “Okay, here’s everything that we gathered from you, here’s how we think we’re going to do it, does this still look good to all of you?” The plan will have a five-year and a 10-year roadmap for what transit will look like.
Carolyn: BATA’s looking to renew its funding millage during this year’s election on November 8th, what are some of the details you’d like people to be aware of?
Eric: Yes, residents of Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties get to vote on this! It’s a renewal at a lower rate. We’re renewing at 0.4877 mills, in 2017, the millage request was at 0.5 mills, so it’s a straight renewal at a lower rate. For an example, let’s say you have a taxable value of $100,000, for you it would be around $40 for the year, that’s about the cost of a tank of gas for a year’s worth of support.
The funding will support new technologies, implementation of the transit master plan recommendations, expansion of on-demand service throughout our whole service area, and then also continue to make bus stop and fleet improvements.
Carolyn: I’m really excited about the property that will be developed on LaFranier Road that will not only house your operations but also create homes for families adjacent to the facility. How’s that project going?