Traverse City News and Events

DDA To Talk New High-Frequency Bus Line, Farmers Market Changes

By Beth Milligan | March 16, 2018

A new high-frequency Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) line offering free WiFi and potentially free rides – plus extended hours and connections every 12-15 minutes at major downtown destinations and hotels – is set to launch this summer. Downtown Development Authority (DDA) members will get a first look at the project at their 8am meeting today (Friday), plus discuss upcoming changes to the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market.

BATA Bay Line
A new east-west transit line BATA Executive Director Kelly Dunham says “has the potential to truly revolutionize transportation in our region” will make its debut in June.

The long-discussed Bay Line will be BATA’s first high-frequency, east-west express loop. Buses will run from 6am until 1am seven days a week, stopping every 12-15 minutes at locations including Meijer, the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Munson Medical Center, CVS, the City Opera House, the State Theatre, The Little Fleet, the Senior Center, Civic Center, Northwestern Michigan College, Munson Community Health, and East Bay Plaza. During peak tourism season, the route will extend to East Bay Township’s “resort row” to include stops such as the Hampton Inn, Traverse City State Park, Park Shore Resort, Days Inn, Tamarack Lodge, and Cherry Tree Inn. The loop has a total end-to-end time of 28 minutes.

“It offers an easy-to-use option for visitors to consider when leaving their hotel to go downtown, the Village at the Commons, or visit other popular destinations,” Dunham said in a memo to DDA board members. “NMC students living on campus needing to get around will also benefit from the Bay Line. The Bay Line has the potential to impact nearly every sector of business in our community, and nearly every demographic.”

The loop will offer several firsts for BATA, including extended operating hours as well as free WiFi on all buses. Most significantly, BATA aims to make the express loop free – though that plan is contingent on securing sponsorship support from community partners. “Why fare free? BATA believes, based on transit industry research, that fare free is the tipping point to truly making a transit option successful,” Dunham wrote. Citing successful free transit loops in cities like Steamboat Springs, Colorado and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Dunham noted that communities offering fare-free routes saw “significant increases in ridership – some nearly double.”

“This is important in our region because we are still trying to change behaviors,” Dunham added. “The Bay Line provides the opportunity to entice employees to use public transit rather than driving a car and worrying about the cost or space for parking.”

While BATA only plans to give a presentation to DDA board members today on the new route – funding for which was made possible through the organization’s recent successful millage increase – DDA CEO Jean Derenzy anticipates BATA will return with a sponsorship request later to make free ridership possible. She says the DDA would likely make a contribution to the program since the DDA’s recent transportation demand management (TDM) study encouraged downtown officials to support transit options that decrease downtown parking demands.

“The line seems to fit well with that component of the TDM and seems like an opportunity to help walkability and the businesses down here,” Derenzy says.

Farmers Market Changes
Plans to change Wednesday vending hours at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market from morning to evening this year will now face a likely delay – while a program to provide fresh produce to Munson Medical Center patients could kick off this season.

DDA board members in February approved changing Wednesday market hours from morning to evening – a switch recommended by the Farmers Market Advisory Board after extensive talks with vendors, shoppers, community partners, and parking staff. However, after the time change was approved to begin with the 2018 season, DDA Communications and Projects Coordinator Nick Viox says nearly a dozen vendors reached out to express concerns about making the switch so quickly, asking instead for a longer planning period to make the transition.

“They reached out to us saying ‘we like the idea, but there needs to be more thought as to the timing of it,’” Viox says. “They needed more time to adjust their staffing and business models than what we were allowing them to make that happen.”

Staff are seeking board member approval to delay changing the hours until the reconstruction of the farmers market, which is scheduled to take place within the next 2-3 years.

Staff will also present a proposal today to partner with Munson Medical Center on a new market program. Under the proposal, Munson would issue nutritional prescriptions to patients that would allow them to use tokens to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. Munson would then reimburse the market for purchased produce. If approved, the program could begin as soon as this season.

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