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BATA and the Brussels Sprouts

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When Tom Menzel was named as the new executive director of the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) his goal was to transform the two-county public bus system’s image to get more commuters to ride the bus. So he commissioned a survey to “find people that don’t currently ride the bus and ask them what it would take to get them to use our services.”

The results of that survey are in. Perhaps most interesting, according to the lead survey consultant Bill Palladino of Krios Consulting, is that people who currently ride the bus have a much better perception of BATA’s service than people who have never ridden the bus. Palladino describes it as “the Brussels sprouts thing.”

“If you survey people who don’t currently eat Brussels sprouts, you will likely get many people who claim that they taste poorly. On the contrary, if you survey people who currently eat them, you are likely to find many who say they taste good,” said Palladino. “Experience is the key to perception.”

Palladino’s survey had more than 1,000 responses from area residents, with 69 percent saying they don’t ride BATA. Nearly two thirds of the respondents live outside of Traverse City, and more than a third work in Traverse City - the basic profile of the commuter that Menzel is targeting.

The survey queried both current bus riders and non-riders about what changes to BATA service would most encourage ridership, and the top three responses were:

  • more frequent routes,
  • better information about BATA services, and
  • more fixed routes connecting villages to Traverse City.

Not surprisingly, non-riders identified the need for better information about BATA services as more important than did riders, who said more frequent routes were most important.

These findings support a study conducted last summer by The Michigan Land Use Institute titled “Expanding Transportation Choices in the Grand Traverse Region: Connecting Villages and Towns with Public Transit”.

That report focused primarily on the input of the riders of BATA’s three fixed-route village connectors. Riders on those routes made similar suggestions for improvements, including preference to fixed-routes over dial-a-ride in rural areas, more promotion and advertising, expanded routes and hours of service.

BATA also learned that the current fare structure is reasonable and not a constraint to increasing ridership, according to the survey.

Palladino’s team made a number of recommendations for BATA that included focusing on the public perception of BATA and communicating more clearly with the public about the services offered. The team also suggested improvements to bus stops to make them attractive, comfortable and visible markers in the community indicating where to get on the bus; and route reorganization to ensure the bus can take riders where they need to go. Finally, there was a suggestion to consider expanding the BATA board of directors or including an advisory board to allow for more community input and provide feedback to BATA staff.

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