By Zachary Barnes
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter
Old Town Lansing is not slated to see public bus service become more frequent in the near future.
That’s bad news for Old Town bus riders. Currently, during evening and weekend hours CATA will only pass through the Old Town area roughly every 45 minutes. This does not include the time it takes to get to the downtown Lansing CATA bus station where one must connect to the specific bus that will take him or her to Old Town. One must connect again when leaving Old Town to get on the right bus that will take them home.
Current ridership levels do not warrant expanded service, officials say, especially when in other neighborhoods there aren’t enough buses to meet the existing demand.
“We don’t have that problem in Old Town. “There’s not a lot of ridership on public transportation going out to Old Town,” said Laurie Robison, marketing director for CATA, the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) which is a bus company that completed 11,432,364 trips in 2015 and is the largest form of public transportation in the greater Lansing area.
Executive Director of the Old Town Commercial Association, Austin Ashley, says having more stops is always going to be beneficial for a growing neighborhood, but he understands Old town is still growing and he and the community must do their part to create an influx in guests to the Old Town community.
“More routes and more stops can definitely help us. As the Old Town Commercial Association, working on supporting businesses and supporting the community, we try to make sure we are giving people reasons to come into Old Town,” said Ashley. “It ensures there is a need for public transportation otherwise it doesn’t make sense to have extra stops if there is not going to be people utilizing those stops.”
Gail Mackenzie, who works at Lambs’ Gate Antiques, didn’t even realize the infrequency of the bus system through Old Town. She believes the Old Town Commercial Association should bring it to CATA’s attention in order to make it easier for the younger crowd, especially MSU students to get to Old Town.
“We (the Old Town Commercial Association) can be all over that,” Mackenzie said. “Hopefully we can get CATA to be more compliant and get it (the buses) down here.”
Maggie Thocker, a staff member at Juice Nation, also believes a more frequent bus system would allow more college students from Michigan State University in nearby East Lansing to journey into Old Town.
“Every once in a while we’ll have an MSU student trickle in, and they get so excited and say ‘I had no idea this place was here.’ And then for a month or two after we get waves of them (students) and then it peters off again,” said Thocker. “A lot of students don’t have cars or a schedule that cooperates with the buses.”
For now it looks like these shops are going to have to rely on the occasional student stopping by and telling their friends, because CATA has no plan to increase the number of buses that pass through Old Town.
Back in 2009, CATA proposed the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system, a transportation system that operates like a light rail system except with high capacity busses. The first phase of implementing it was announced on Feb. 19.
According to the BRT website, the more efficient transportation system can “increase property values, significantly reduces automobile accidents, and steadily improves economic conditions, including retail sales and sales per square foot. Studies also show that the elimination of direct left turns actually reduces delays for drivers and improves safety by 25 percent.”
Right now the plan for it is to run from the Capitol Loop to Marsh Road in to Meridian Township. Old Town is not going be on its route.
“Initially with BRT, we are trying to address ridership demand. Route 1 is definitely at capacity. During peak travel times we leave a lot of people behind. They then have to wait for the next vehicle,” Robison said.
Ashley understands that crowds will come as the neighborhood offers more things to do and more unique products. With a growing area, the transportation will grow with it.
“There is a growing demand for more stops in Old Town,” said Ashley” “As it continues to grow and expand there will be a greater need for more routes into Old Town.”
Right now the expansion in Old Town isn’t great enough in CATA’s perspective for any additional stops to be added now.
“We need to see some level of increased demand before we search for an alternative solution or options that CATA can offer,” Robison said. “It (Old Town) hasn’t been a problem area for us that would call attention to the route that would make us say ‘we gotta fix something out there.'”
Joseph F. DiMento, a professor who studies the impact of transportation systems at University of California Irvine, also believes Old Town must develop as a commercial area and continue to bring in new products for consumers. This is more vital than getting extra transportation at this time.
“If I had to say ‘what do you need more, public transportation or risk takers and pioneers to try to build a desirable social area in an old part of the city?’ I would think the more important thing is the entrepreneurship because people do have fine ways to get to places,” like Uber, the growing online taxi dispatch service, as well as their own vehicles, said the professor of social ecology, law and management. “Without the former, that is the entrepreneurship, the latter won’t take you anywhere.”
But once Old Town is an established neighborhood, DiMento says public transportation can help its livelihood.
“Public transportation is truly important in many ways. One way is if you are trying to build a market where young people can feel comfortable going out drinking and having dinner and then getting back, you want some sense that they won’t have to walk to an area,” said DiMento. “Perhaps more importantly, they want to have a sense that if they have a few extra drinks they will be able to get home safely. Safely meaning, that they’re not hurting anyone either by driving under the influence.”