BATA driving for better service, brand Upgrades entirely grant-funded

TRAVERSE CITY – Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) is kicking off plans to improve its infrastructure, services, and its brand. The effort will begin with improvements to its Cass Street facility in Traverse City.

Six local contractors submitted bids vying for the work. The apparent low bidder on the project – at $329,000 – is Traverse City-based Eckler Building Solutions. BATA is required by the Michigan Department of Transportation to award the project to the lowest bidder, as long as it meets all requirements of the contract. BATA's independent cost estimate for the project was $300,000.

Construction is slated to begin in March and expected to be complete by late spring, during which the facility will be fully operational.

The Cass Street building first opened in 1989 and was long overdue for some maintenance – including a new roof and new windows and doors that are projected to bring a savings of 20 percent over the long-term.

But the most noticeable improvements to the community will be an addition to the entrance area, which faces South Airport Road, and some cosmetic work that will make it similar in appearance to the Hall Street transfer station, built in 2006.

"We're giving public transit a distinct brand in the community," says Executive Director Tom Menzel. Local architect Ray Kendra of CWS Architects, designer of the Hall St. facility, also did the design for the Cass Street improvements.

The new addition will provide a 360-foot enclosed area for riders to wait for their bus and the design will allow for improved traffic flow into and out of the building. These improvements link to the new business model the organization presented to the community last year, Menzel adds.

"This proves that the millage support we received [in Nov. '11] was well placed because we are moving ahead with our plans for change in our business model," he says. "We're committed to showing ongoing progress to improve customer service."

One component of that business model is implementing a more expansive fixed-route system – and opening up BATA's services to a whole new demographic.

"By expanding the front of the building it will also be better functioning as a transfer site," Menzel explains.

Right now, several bus routes do transfer at the Cass Street facility, which also operates as BATA's administrative center and houses most of its 135 employees and its fleet of 70 buses.

"We intend to double ridership through this facility with the fixed-route system," Menzel says.

BATA is expanding its fixed-schedule bus service to give more predictable and efficient options for riders to get to where they need to go in a timely fashion – and in doing so making public transit a viable option for more people.

Likewise, more people are seeing that BATA is following through with a commitment from Menzel and the BATA board to provide more value to the community. Voters in Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties overwhelming approved BATA's five-year millage renewal request late last year – which provides $2.3 million in operational funds annually.

However, none of those funds will be used for this construction project. Instead, 80 percent will be paid for through a Federal Transportation Authority grant, and the remaining 20 percent is coming from the Michigan Department of Transportation, says Menzel.

Grant dollars have been critical to BATA's ongoing effort to make service and facility improvements, increasing BATA's asset value by $1.4 million from 2008-11, according to Carrie Thompson, BATA's business development director.

In addition to the expanding fixed-route system, BATA officials are also currently exploring opportunities with Munson Medical Center on a bus that would provide exclusive service on the hospital campus and with Northwestern Michigan College about providing express shuttles connecting the various facilities. It is also investigating new seasonal services, including a Beach Bus in Leelanau County, a Winery Circuit on Old Mission Peninsula and a Performing Arts Express, with service from downtown Traverse City to Interlochen.

More info on BATA's new business model and proposed changes for improved public transit in the community is available at batanewdirections.org. BN

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