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Collaboration saves bus service for WMU students

June 13, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University students will continue to enjoy the same level of bus service they've had in recent years, thanks to a new public-private partnership hammered out in late May.

"We've preserved the total package. The major change in bus service students will see this fall will be a slightly different look to some of the buses they ride," says Lowell P. Rinker, WMU associate vice president for business. "With a lot of student input and terrific collaboration between Kalamazoo Metro Transit and the WMU staff, we've managed to put together a bus package that even enhances the service level a bit and still stays within the fiscal constraints we outlined at the beginning of this process."

The new arrangement will bring the private bus firm Indian Trails into the picture to provide service around the main campus and transportation to and from the Parkview Campus. The frequency on those routes will increase.

Metro Transit will continue service on the Solon-Kendall and Lafayette routes as well as the Lovell and West Michigan routes, and students will continue to have free systemwide access on Metro Transit buses. Metro Transit will also continue service to the College of Health and Human Services and provide shuttle for football and basketball games. Completion of the Metro Transit portion of the arrangement is pending approval by the Kalamazoo City Commission.

Rinker says the new agreement will cost $1.36 million annually--which is far less than the nearly $1.8 million annual cost of the current contract with Metro Transit and represents an even greater savings over the $2.1 cost of a proposed contract renewal. Rinker and his staff began exploring alternate ways of providing transportation when the cost of continuing the Metro Transit contract past its July 31 end date was quoted at $300,000 or 19 percent higher per year than the previous contract. The cost increases were due to rising fuel costs and inflationary pressures.

"Our ridership was down, and our parking revenue that funds the contract was down, so we knew we had to find a way to decrease costs for bus service as well," Rinker says. "We've spent months working with the Western Student Association and with Students for a Sustainable Earth to gauge student needs and desires. We know how important bus transportation is to many students, so when a simple renewal of the existing contract became too expensive, we began looking at other options and we were encouraged by the responses we got from the private sector."

Rinker says the results of a student ridership survey his staff helped student groups conduct made it clear just how critical many students view the service provided under the current contract.

"We worked closely on several alternative packages with Metro Transit, then we put out a request for proposals from the private sector," Rinker says. "We received some great proposals and ultimately accepted one from Indian Trails. They're located nearby--at the downtown transit facility--and they have a significant inventory of buses and drivers, so we'll be well served."

Rinker notes the deal negotiated is for a one-year period, which will give the University and its transit partners an opportunity to make adjustments at the end of the initial contract. The new agreement, he says, brings some immediate changes to University business offices, which will now be responsible for administrative support for all on-campus bus routes.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
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