Agencies tackle transportation issues

TRAVERSE CITY – Every weekday, Dale Killingbeck drives 140 miles round-trip to work at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

He gets up at the crack of dawn at his family's home in Tustin, just south of Cadillac, and makes the solitary drive to work in the corporate communications office for the regional hospital. He figures he drives close to 700 miles a week to work and back.

So Killingbeck is one of those workers who are especially interested in a new Ride Share web site that could benefit him and hundreds of others in the Grand Traverse area.

"I'd definitely check into that," he said. "With the price of gas the way it is, I would like to do some ride sharing into Traverse City with people who live close to me."

The new Ride Share web site is a collaboration between several agencies, including the Northern Michigan Transportation Alliance (NMTA) and the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments.

The web site is expected to go online this fall, just as students are returning to school and parents are getting back to their regular work schedules.

"We hope to have it in place by Sept. 1," said Michelle Goetz of the Transportation Alliance, who works out of the BATA office in Traverse City. "I'm from the Washington, D.C. area and the traffic there is such a nightmare.

"Traffic isn't as much a problem here, but there are still lots of people who could benefit from a ride sharing program because this is still a rural area."

Goetz said the ride share program is targeting: 1) people who don't have cars; 2) saving money because of the price of gas; and 3) environmental concerns.

"We have talked to some of the bigger employers in Traverse City about the Ride Share web site and they are all for it," she said. "We're sure there are people who live in Elk Rapids and work at a place like Munson that don't even realize they can share a ride. That's what the website will do. It will link employees. It will provide a service that will benefit both the employees and the company."

Janie McNabb from the Council of Governments agrees.

"We have found that transportation can be a major factor in holding a job," she said. "So this web site will have a regional reach. We have worked with businesses to identify transportation issues."

Here's how the website will work. People can log in and post their information, such as where they live, where they work and what their hours are. They can also list their cost sharing information about pitching in to buy gas. A person reading the website can decide if they want to ride share, depending on whether their schedules match.

"We have targeted people who live in rural areas and drive in to Traverse City for this website," said McNabb. "But it can work the other way around, too. This can link people who live in Traverse City and work in some of our outlying communities."

Of course, the Ride Share web site isn't for everyone.

"I think the idea is a noble one, but it would be difficult for me to ride share," said Adrienne Rasmussen of Alden. "My work time can vary depending on the projects we are currently working on. So my work schedule isn't consistent. I think this would be perfect for the person who works a regular schedule at the same location. I commute 40 minutes each way and I use that time by making phone calls and listening to the news. We love where we live, so we wouldn't even think about moving closer to Traverse City."

Still, the concept has many backers.

"I think the timing is right for something like this," said Missy Luyk, the Trail Program Specialist for TART Trails, Inc. "We have a Smart Commute Week in Traverse City and this is building on that concept. We promote smart commuting as car pooling, walking, bicycling or taking BATA. So the Ride Share web site makes sense for a lot of reasons. There is a great need and it's very feasible."

Goetz said the Ride Share web site is just one of a four-phase plan the Transportation Alliance has in place.

The others include medical transportation, options for people who are temporarily without a car and a focus on helping senior citizens do things like go to the grocery store or get a haircut.

"Our goal is to improve the quality of life in our area," Goetz said. "We think the Ride Share web site will do that by connecting people."

Other agencies collaborating on the Ride Share web site include Michigan WORKS!, United Way, Department of Human Services, Goodwill and BATA.

The site, which is still under construction, can be accessed at