Michigan Tech’s Transportation Enterprise (TE) is at it again, this time proposing a new public transit system connecting Michigan Tech to Houghton and Hancock.
Katie Gauthier and Kyle Pepin, members of the Enterprise, presented to the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) last Wednesday at their weekly meeting to share the team’s ideas and gain support for a project that has been in the works for the past two years.
Looking to improve the overall accessibility of the bus system, the team is proposing to add six fixed bus routes, making over 100 stops per day at the MUB with fare-free access. Currently, Houghton has one fixed-route, with a one-hour wait between buses, and on-demand service. Hancock provides an on-demand service to its residents. The TE is proposing to keep the on-demand service, although the fare would be at a reduced rate for students.
Upon conducting a systematic study, including an open forum to get a better understanding for what the community feels would be useful, it was found that the current system in both cities is seldom taken advantage of by students. The TE found that the current system does not provide adequate service to Michigan Tech, making it difficult for students who would rather take a bus to do so. The TE has also met with Houghton and Hancock City Managers to regularly involve them in the process.
The TE also completed analyses of the proposed consolidation and expansion of the Houghton and Hancock transit system. As part of a Ford Foundation College Community Challenge Grant, the Enterprise would like to improve the system by implementing a fixed-route system. By offering routes, including the “Houghton Express,” “Houghton Commuter” and “Hancock Commuter,” the hope is to provide students, as well as faculty, staff and the community, a better public transit system, reducing the carbon footprint and relieving some of the current gripes on campus, including parking.
Dr. George Dewey, associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty advisor for the TE, said one of the biggest challenges of the project is the overall cost associated with implementation. After preparing a detailed financial analysis, the Enterprise estimated the cost of the entire project to be $1.32 million per year of operation.
To raise the funds needed to begin the implementation of the project, the TE is looking into a $40 per semester fee, similar to the current Student Activity fee, which would be added to a student’s tuition bill. The transit fee would give students a U-Pass, allowing them unlimited access to ride the bus system.
The new Transit System Proposal is in competition with other financial needs of the University. In current budget negotiations, the State of Michigan is proposing to limit tuition and fee increases, requiring all increases to be less than four percent, similar to what was done last year. So, if the proposed $40 fee is approved for the 2013-2014 school year, it would be counted as part of the four percent cap. Ultimately, the Board of Control would need to approve including the cost of this project into the budget.
“The transit proposal represents a 0.55 percent increase over current tuition and fees and if approved would be considered part of the maximum 4 percent tuition and fee increase currently being considered by the state. With the transit project, students would definitely see something tangible,” said Dewey.
The proposed system will not only increase the accessibility of public transit, but could also help reduce traffic on and around campus, improving safety for pedestrians and bikers. With the vast majority of the vehicles coming to campus being single-occupancy, and the potentially high costs involved were Michigan Tech to build new parking facilities, the public transit system, the Enterprise believes, is a better option in the long run.
“Whether you use the new transit system often or not, you will still receive benefits…by reducing congestion driving to school, more parking availability and the safety of the late night shuttle running on the weekends,” Gauthier added. In her opinion, the biggest issue this new system would help to relieve is the congested parking situation on campus.
One option, if the project is approved, is to schedule a student referendum after a few years to decide if it should continue. It has also been suggested that a transit advisory board with student representation be formed to address complaints and provide suggestions to improve the system. The TE hope that feedback will also come from both USG and GSG (Graduate Student Government), respectively.
The proposed fare-free fixed routes would run between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. The system would also include a late night bus on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. The complete details of all routes can be found on the “Proposed Routes” page of the TE website.
The team is looking for your feedback. For reports and assorted analyses associated with the project, and to voice your opinion, please visit the Transportation Enterprise’s website at (http://transportation.enterprise.mtu.edu/transit/).