Posted in CEO Insight on

Why Millennials Are Shifting Commuter Trends

America’s future may be riding on public transportation, but the true keepers of public transit’s destiny are millennials. While they’re often stereotyped in daily news headlines, this tech-savvy civic-minded generation knows how to get around. In fact, nearly 70 percent of millennials use multiple modes of transportation to get around the city or suburbs, with public transit topping the list as a generational favorite due to its ability to connect all other modes.IMG_0548

This generation wants choices when it comes to transportation. Getting around should be low-cost, green, convenient, and much more. I commend this generation and believe we should welcome this trend. Increased public transportation — and active transportation use — improves the environment, saves money, and enhances commuters’ quality of life. As for communities, those who do not accommodate the millennial demand are at risk of losing millennials are other places altogether.

Yes, Americans have been driving less and only 49 percent of 17-year-olds are licensed to drive compared to 75 percent in 1978. So what explains this shift? I believe it starts with millennials’ worldview. More than other generations, they “appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning,” according to Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker and Emily Esfahani Smith of the Hoover Institution.

Millennials act on that desire for meaning — to “make a difference” — even when deciding how to get from place to place. To give some reasoning behind their interest in meaning they have specifically cited ease of use, lower environmental impact, and the sense of community it fosters. This interest aligns directly with a recent University of Minnesota study, which found that living closer to light rail lines is associated with a higher degree of life satisfaction.

To learn more about why and how millennials are shifting commuter trends in America, read my entire column via USA Today.

– Peter Varga
CEO of The Rapid

Do you think cities are doing enough to cater to multimodal lifestyles?

Posted in News on

Moving Toward More Sustainable Transit

Vanner HBA UnitFrom being named the best mid-sized transit system in the country to hitting a new one-year record of 12.5 million rides, we’ve had a lot of milestones in the past year. Today we are happy to announce one more as we take an important step toward more sustainable public transit after receiving Vanner Incorporated’s 1,000th Hybrid Beltless Alternator (HBA®) on one of our new HBA® ready Gillig hybrid Silver Line BRT buses.

“Receiving this bus is very exciting for all of us at The Rapid,” explains Rapid CEO Peter Varga. “As the number one mid-sized transit system of the year we know other transit authorities are watching us and looking to see what we are doing right. I can say with confidence that our growing fleet of HBA® equipped hybrids is definitely one of those things we are doing right.”

Products like the HBA® are the result of healthy collaboration between Vanner and OEMs like Gillig. “Our goal is to produce the most reliable, durable and cost effective bus to maintain and operate and this advanced technology helps us do just that,” explains Joe Policarpio, Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Gillig. “We purchased the first HBA® in 2010 and we’re proud to have received the 1,000th HBA®. It is technology that works for Gillig and our customers. We’re also pleased to say it is American made.”

The Vanner Hybrid Beltless Alternator is an energy efficient solid state DC conversion alternative to traditional mechanical-drive alternator systems that reduces maintenance, fuel consumption and emissions. Running at 92-95 percent conversion efficiency, a single HBA® configuration can deliver up to 300 amps at idle (24 VDC) and with a Dual HBA® equipped bus up to 600 amps at idle (24VDC) are capable. An Electric Beltless Alternator (EBA®) configuration is available for electric, fuel cell and battery buses.IMG_3999

HBA® and EBA® equipped vehicles are currently in service in fifty seven transit authorities across North America and six countries worldwide including Spain, India, Turkey, Poland, Malaysia and Brazil. Made in Hilliard, Ohio, the Vanner HBA® is fully “Buy America” compliant.More than 120 HBAs® have been ordered since delivery of the 1,000th HBA® to Grand Rapids and the HBA® is quickly becoming the preferred DC-DC conversion system for Allison Hybrid buses due to its energy efficiency and fuel savings.

“Our hybrid bus fleet already receives a 20 percent savings in fuel consumption with the Gillig Hybrid,” continues Varga. “Integrating the Vanner HBA® will further those savings. The reduced maintenance and parts replacement costs over the life of the bus are additional benefits to our fleet. As stewards of our environment we find the Vanner HBA® equipped bus a natural fit because we know that we are not only putting a more efficient bus in service, we are also providing a greener transit ride for our community.”

Share your thoughts of the future of sustainable public transit below! 

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The Laker Line Study Takes Public Engagement Online

The future of Route 50 is in your hands. Fortunately, sharing your ideas for the next generation of this connector route is as easy as logging online thanks to the innovative new software MindMixer. The Laker Line Study, which is currently underway to determine the viability of enhanced rapid transit options along the existing Route 50, has seen public engagement more than double since the last phase of the project due in part to this innovative online app used to gather feedback.

Staying engaged with important conversations isn’t always easy when you’re busy. This is why the study team is engaging the public via MindMixer, which lets planners engage in a conversation with the public to gather targeted feedback.Route 50 Connector

“Going into the project, we wanted to be as inclusive as possible in how we plan and make decisions for the future, and I think we are on track to do that,” said Nick Monoyios, Long Range Planner for The Rapid. “People’s feedback is key to the project. We have used every tool in the arsenal to engage the public because, ultimately, it is their system. We need their feedback to determine what may – or, may not – work in the implementation of enhanced rapid transit service.”

The MindMixer site has gathered around 200 new ideas from participants and nearly 350 comments. More than 2,300 unique visitors have viewed the site since it was launched last November, viewing around 8,900 pages of questions and feedback on the site. A full report of public engagement is available in this report.

“MindMixer has allowed us to engage the public in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past,” said Lynée Wells, Urban Planner and Principal at Williams & Works. “People are able to pin future station locations they’d like to see on an interactive map, share photos, have virtual conversations, and vote on other people’s ideas to elevate them in prominence.”

In addition to MindMixer, the study has held two series of interactive community meetings at locations along the existing Route 50 corridor. A third phase of public meetings is planned for later this summer, at which the public is welcome to examine displays exhibiting the study’s current findings and give feedback on route alignments, station locations, lane configurations, and other details under consideration. Timing and details of the meetings are coming soon.10291735_476943119074469_6550537105618926421_n

If you haven’t had a chance to try out MindMixer, it’s not too late. This online forum will be available throughout the study.  Help steer the future of Route 50 by simply logging on, checking out the current conversation topics, providing feedback, and with the planning team, riders, stakeholders in the corridor, and others interested in the Laker Line analysis.

Have you suggested a way to improve transit between Grand Rapids and Allendale? 

Posted in Rider Stories on

Real Rider – Jon B. Rides To Save

Are you a Real Rider of The Rapid? If you’re interested in being featured as a part of our series, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your story for consideration by clicking the link on the right side of this blog. 

 “I save every month by riding instead of driving. Some months I have saved over $300 in gas money!”

Sure, leaving your car at home and riding public transit is a better choice for the planet and your own health. But who doesn’t love saving money? With the cost of a 31-Day Pass set at $40.00 for regular riders, it’s no comparison to current gas prices. And it gets even better for college students in the Greater Grand Rapids area. Most local colleges and universities offer free or discounted fares for student Rapid riders, which simplifies the cost of getting around on a college budget.

Meet Jon B.! This Grand Valley State University student and avid Rapid rider has a special passion for public transit travel. He’s taken full advantage of his ability to ride for free as a GVSU student. Here’s what Jon had to say about riding The Rapid:


Where do you live?
I live in Allendale, in an apartment at 48 West.

How long have you been riding The Rapid?
I have been riding The Rapid since I moved to Allendale to go to GVSU in the fall of 2012.

Why do you ride The Rapid?
I ride The Rapid as a free alternative to driving around the Grand Rapid area. Even though I have a car, it gets abysmal mileage, so riding the bus saves me a ton of money.

Which route/routes do you ride the most?
I ride route 37 most often, as it takes me from my apartment to GVSU’s Allendale campus. I also ride routes 8, 48 and 50 when I need to go to the mall, downtown, or a friend’s house.

What’s your favorite thing to do while riding The Rapid?
If it’s relatively late at night, I tend to chat with the drivers to give them a bit of company with a mostly empty bus. Outside of that, I do a lot of programming on my laptop while riding downtown.

What do you think is the best thing about living in the Greater Grand Rapids area?
I really do think The Rapid is one of the best things about Grand Rapids. The ability to get from my apartment to downtown to a movie or mall without spending a huge amount of money on gas is absolutely wonderful for a college student like myself.

What’s one thing you would say to convince others to try riding The Rapid?
I’m not sure I know anyone around here who doesn’t ride The Rapid, but if I find someone, I would show him or her how much money I save every month by riding instead of driving. Some months I have saved over $300 in gas money!

If you want to find out how much money you could save by riding The Rapid, check out this handy fuel savings calculator!

How much money would/has riding The Rapid saved you?

Posted in News on

Service Update: Route 3 Is Changing

Please be advised that Route 3 is changing. Due to increased employment activity along Roger B. Chaffee Drive and Cherry Street in downtown Grand Rapids, Route 3 is undergoing two route changes to improve service. This route change will be effective on Monday, May 5, 2014.

New Routing Downtown

Route 3 will service Cherry St. instead of Fulton St. All removed stops will be served by Route 4.

New Routing South

Route 3 will extend south past 36th St. on Roger B. Chaffee Blvd. to close to 44th St., and will turn around to return north to Hope Network and the regular route.

Stops No Longer Served By Route 3

  • Jefferson at 40 Jefferson
  • East Fulton at Ransom
  • Fulton & Sheldon
  • Fulton & Louis
  • Ottawa & Fulton
  • Ottawa & Oakes

New Stops Served By Route 3

  • 3859 Model Die & Mold
  • 3910 Roger B GR Plastics
  • 4005 Rapid Supply & Sales
  • 4220 Roger B GR Plastics
  • Cherry & LaGrave
  • Commerce & Cherry

Posted in News on

Say Hello To Three-Position Bike Racks

With warm, sunny weather finally arriving here in West Michigan, more people are choosing to hop on their bikes. For those who enjoy taking the bus and biking to get to work, accessing local bike trails, and much more, we have some great news: We’re beginning to transition our fixed-route buses from two-bike racks to three-position racks.

Coming this spring we will have three-position racks on 100 of our 150 fixed-route vehicles. Future Silver Line riders can also look forward to all 10 bus rapid transit vehicles being equipped with three-position racks. The new Sportworks Apex 3 three-position racks are just as simple to use as our two-position racks. Apex 3 Position Bike Racks

How To Use The Bike Racks

– Before loading your bike, be sure all loose items are secured or removed.
– When the bus stops, walk your bike to the front of the bus. Keep toward the curb-side of the street — stay out of the way of traffic.
– Lift the handle to release the rack and lower it into the down position. Listen for the click to make sure it locks in place.
– Place the front tire of your bike in the position marked appropriately and slip your rear tire into the back slot.
– Lift the spring-loaded arm over the front tire — your bike is now loaded.
– Removing your bike is easy since all bike positions are completely independent of each other, making it simple to unload with others already loaded in the rack.

For more information on bicycles and The Rapid, please visit our website.

How often do you use the bus and your bike to travel to a destination?

Posted in In The Community on

4 Reasons To Love Public Transportation

We admit we’re a little biased when it comes to public transportation—we can name many things to be excited about. And with Americans using public transportation more today than any other time since 1956, it’s safe to say we’re not the only ones who enjoy it. Bus Love

But there’s a lot more to love about public transportation than simply having a safe and inexpensive way to get around. In fact, there are reasons to support public transportation even if you’ve never boarded a bus.  Here are four reasons to fall in love—maybe even all over again:

1. Public transportation grows communities. When public transit thrives, so do communities. It positively impacts businesses and real estate property values. For every dollar communities invest in public transportation, approximately $4 is generated in economic returns. As for businesses, every $10 million in capital investment in public transit yields $30 million in increased business sales. Individuals benefit too—residential properties located near public transportation perform 42 percent better that those lacking this local benefit. It’s an economic win all around.

2. Public transportation creates jobs. The bus doesn’t just get you to and from work. Simply ensuring public transportation options are available can impact the workforce. In fact, every $1 billion invested in the U.S. transportation infrastructure supports and creates some 47,500 jobs. Businesses located near public transit services see improved productivity through better employee reliability and less absenteeism and turnover. It’s also important to note that public transit allows for better access to more jobs, which ensures employers have larger, more diverse talent pools to hire from.

3. Public transportation helps the environment. If you’re looking for ways to live a more “green” lifestyle, then developing a crush on public transportation can help. A private auto produces 0.96 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger-mile, while public transit (averaged out among bus, heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, and van pools) yields 0.45 pounds per passenger-mile. It’s been estimated that public transit saves America 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, while also saving the U.S. 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline every year.

4. Public transportation contributes to improved health. The time you spend in your car may be detrimental your health. According to a recent study, long commutes are linked to obesity, depression, and even divorce. Riding the bus or train also helps to increase physical activity. Public transit users take 30 percent more steps per day than non-transit users. This helps to fights obesity and even saves you money in obesity-related medical costs. Plus fewer emissions make for cleaner air for all of us to breathe, specifically those with asthma or other respiratory challenges.

Are you feeling the love yet? Before you run out to your nearest bus stop, remember that reaping and increasing the benefits of public transportation depends on the investment we are willing to make. Spread the word about how much you love public transportation.

What do you love most about public transportation? 

Posted in CEO Insight on

Watching Public Transportation Grow In Grand Rapids

This December marks my 20th year at The Rapid. During my time here, we’ve seen a lot of changes. To name a few, there have been new routes and better frequencies to the planning and implementation of Michigan’s very first bus rapid transit line. And more service has brought more riders. In fact, I’m proud to say ridership has increased nearly four times since I arrived. We hit just under 3.5 million rides in 1994 and today we’re at 12.5 million rides.

My first job in public transportation came when I was a bus driver many years ago in California. You could say I’m a life-long lover of public transportation. This is why I’m happy to share that it’s an exciting time for transit. Ridership is up and new technologies are being introduced almost every day as millennials are relying more on public transportation — not just across the nation, but also in the Great Grand Rapids area. The region has been growing and the urban centers have become more dynamic. Through this, it’s been great to be able to be part of the development of a transit system that’s meeting the challenges and excitement of a growing community.Peter Varga at Central Station

One aspect we’re focused on meeting for our growing community is making the public transportation experience easier and smarter. As a comparatively small public transit system, we know our resources may not be on par with more technologically advanced transit systems in San Francisco and Boston. But our intent is to be able to get there. Right now we’re looking forward to getting on Google Transit (it won’t be long before our data is vetted and available), investigating our future ticketing options including smart cards, and improving our rider tools for the tech-savvy millennial generation.

My work and passion for public transportation spans beyond the Greater Grand Rapids area. I’m currently the Chair of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) where I work with other passionate transportation leaders around the country to improve the mobility choices of people throughout the nation. Since we’re at the beginning of a public transit renaissance in the U.S., I’m currently focused on articulating our vision for public transportation infrastructure.

Over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to excellent customer service. I hope that our new Get on Board blog creates an added level of communication. If you have any on-topic questions for me, please feel free to comment on this blog post.

– Peter Varga
CEO of The Rapid

Posted in Silver Line on

How ArtPrize 2014 Plans To Use The Silver Line

In 2013, we counted 158,000 Rapid riders with ArtPrize wristbands during the event. This number was up 18 percent from ArtPrize 2012. As the Grand Rapids’s international art competition grows in popularity, so does the need for effective transportation options during the event. Never fear, bus rapid transit is coming to the rescue.Mayor Heartwell ArtPrize

With the Silver Line set to open on August 25, 2014, ArtPrize 2014 has chosen to use the bus rapid transit stations as stepping-off points for walking routes. The 2014 event is scheduled from Sept. 24 to Oct. 12. During this time you’ll be able to more easily access ArtPrize venues via walking paths that start and end at stations along the Silver Line bus rapid transit route.

And for those traveling into Grand Rapids looking to avoid downtown parking and traffic, the Silver Line route will also feature a free park-and-ride lot. Located near 60th and Division this free parking lot will feature about 200 spaces. We have no doubt it will be a valuable commodity during ArtPrize and other events moving forward.

Read the full Grand Rapids Press article about transportation options available during ArtPrize here.

Posted in Rider Stories on

Real Rider – Dan K. Uses His Travel Skills

Are you a Real Rider of The Rapid? If you’re interested in being featured as a part of our series, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your story for consideration by clicking the link on the right side of this blog. 

 “Give The Rapid a try! Riding the bus helped me learn how to travel independently, so now I can fly to Florida.”

Believe it or not, riding the bus here in Grand Rapids (yes, even just once in a blue moon) gives you the skills you need to travel globally. Whether it’s trying out a new public transportation system in another city like Chicago, traveling by airplane, or even riding the streetcars in Budapest, you’ll have the attitude of a pro. Sure, not all public transportation systems are identical, but learning the “ins and outs” of one makes you sharper when it comes to others. Don’t believe us? Let Dan. K win you over.

Dan K. has been riding The Rapid for nearly 20 years!

Meet Dan K.! He’s been a loyal Rapid rider for 20 years. We could all take notes from his years of public transportation experience. After participating successfully in our Travel Training program, Dan was able to independently ride the bus wherever his heart desired. Being public transportation-savvy even transferred over to flying. Dan’s traveled to Florida and Hawaii. Here’s what Dan had to say about riding The Rapid:

Why do you ride The Rapid?:
It takes me where I need to go — to work, the YMCA, and to visit family.

What do you like about riding The Rapid?:
Getting where I want to go without having to wait for someone to drive me. It’s great for spur-of-the-moment travel.

What do you like best about Grand Rapids?:
There’s always something to do here. I like the Whitecaps, seeing shows at Van Andel Arena, ArtPrize, and fireworks.

What’s your favorite thing to do while riding the bus?:
I use my cell phone when I’m traveling.

Do you have any advice to share with your fellow Rapid riders or your community?:
Give The Rapid a try! Riding the bus helped me learn how to travel independently, so now I can fly to Florida.

Do you think you’ve gained transferable travel skills thanks to riding The Rapid?