Jhe Intercity transport partnership received board and federal government approval to purchase a $1.95 million property in Grandville for its new paratransit operations center.
ITP operates The Rapid transit system as well as Go!Bus, which provides on-demand transportation to people with disabilities and seniors in The Rapid service area, serving over 4,700 people.
After months of searching for suitable sites, The Rapid is considering purchasing the property located at 3531 Busch Drive SW of Meekhof Trucking Inc., with a planned closure in June. Funding for the purchase will come from the $15.8 million allocated to The Rapid as part of federal infrastructure funding earlier this year.
The Go!Bus fleet currently operates from a facility at 125 Cottage Grove Street SE in Grand Rapids which is leased by Transport MV inc., the entrepreneur who operates the service. The owner of this facility is considering selling the property, pursuant to a resolution of ITP’s Board of Directors.
Land for a new operating facility was prioritized in both the Rapid Facilities Master Plan and the FY2022 Capital Improvement Plan as needs grew and in anticipation of development options. mobility services such as RapidConnect, which enables the booking of mobile journeys in real time.
“It’s really about mitigating risk, because we didn’t own the facility,” said Steve Schipper, COO of The Rapid. “Because this service is outsourced, we were vulnerable if there was a change of contractors or if we decided to bring it in-house on our own, we wouldn’t have a place to store or maintain this fleet of 60 vehicles.”
The Grandville site already includes maintenance bays, administrative offices and parking spaces, and will only require minor improvements to be operational.
According to the ITP resolution, relocating the demand response operations center to the Grandville site – which should be usable by the fall – will save Rapid millions of dollars compared to the construction of a new facility.
The facility will be owned and operated by The Rapid and will serve as an operations center for contracted drivers and mechanics as well as storage and maintenance space for Go!Bus vehicles.
This new arrangement will help ensure critical service continuity, said Deborah Prato, CEO of Rapid. MiBiz.
“Even if we have a hiccup for a day, for people doing medical errands and emergency treatments and things like that, we can’t miss it,” Prato said. “You may be able to go to the grocery store the next day, but if you need dialysis, we have to take you there. … This enters into the calculation of the guarantee of our own property.
Closing transportation gaps
For people with disabilities and seniors, Go!Bus makes getting around Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, Grandville and Walker easy by offering everything from daily trips to the office to trips to medical appointments.
“Unfortunately, we’ve built a world where…you need to have some type of mobility to get around (and) live a full life,” said Dave Bulkowski, executive director of Kent County Disability Advocates. “Mobility is absolutely essential. There are places you literally can’t get to unless it’s very expensive.
According to Bulkowski, “mobility has a huge impact” as a social determinant of health, but most transportation services lack the infrastructure to provide reliable transportation to people in need of housing. Transportation services like Uber and Lyft rarely have accessible vehicle options, and while many ambulance providers offer non-emergency transportation for medical appointments, those trips tend to incur high costs, Bulkowski noted. .
For many people with disabilities, acquiring personal transportation also poses challenges. Vehicle modifications can be expensive and for some people driving just isn’t an option.
“A lot of people, especially people with visual impairments, you just won’t be able to drive regardless of the modifications,” Bulkowski said.
Disability Advocates of Kent County have been involved in all local campaigns to support funding for The Rapid, as well as through the Transportation Sub-Committee of the Basic Needs Task Force and providing disability awareness training for the drivers of The Rapid.
“To The Rapid’s credit, they are always looking for ways to increase their effectiveness in the community,” Bulkowski said. “It’s great that The Rapid is doing this work.”
But there is still a lot to do. Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg announced in his April 27 state of the county address that a countywide mobility task force would be convened this year – a victory for advocates like Bulkowski .
A key question for this committee, Bulkowski said, is, “How do we identify current barriers and begin to create better solutions than exist today?”