I-Team Waste Watch: New info on The Rapid
Updated: Wednesday, October 24 2012, 08:01 PM EDT
WALKER, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Newschannel 3 I-Team took a second look at the Rapid bus system in Kent County after we uncovered new information that could influence people before they vote on keeping bus service in Walker.
Last May you may remember we scrutinized the Rapid's ridership numbers to see if taxpayers were getting their money's worth after a tax hike.
People in six communities in Kent County decided to pay more than $1 million annually for more service in the evening, yet the I-team found 6% of a sampling of buses running late at night were empty. More than half the buses had less than six people.
We wanted to know at that time from the Rapid's Chief Executive Officer what was going to be done to get more people on buses but we didn't get many answers.
After our investigation aired, leaders in the city of Walker collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot whether to stay in the multi-city partnership for bus service. Some in that community believe the city's not getting it's money's worth and say they have no faith in the transit system's leaders to improve service.
It turned out one day after the I-Team's initial investigation on aired back in May, e-mails we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed leaders at the Rapid wanted to talk amongst themselves off the record.
We saw the words in an e-mail from a Rapid executive to CEO Peter Varga and others that they wanted to take an on-going conversation about Walker's bus routes to "private e-mail accounts".
We found that discussion produced some documents voters in Walker might want to view. Even though the discussion went private, the Rapid's attorney didn't think the E-mail conversation was so private and forced leaders to give us everything they had.
In the documents, a staffer sent statistics to Varga that show one out of every 4.4 riders in the month of April actually got on or off the bus in the city of Walker.
There are three fixed route lines that come into the city so if the Rapid's numbers are true, 77% of all the traffic on the Walker bus routes is really outside the city, most of it in Grand Rapids.
If the Rapid's one-month numbers hold true over a year's time, Walker taxpayers are essentially paying $6.40 dollars per ride and close to $13 dollars per round trip.
The other document obtained by the I-Team from the private e-mail accounts shows taxpayers in Walker over a year's time pay only 55 cents out of every dollar for their own service. The rest of each dollar apparently funding service outside the city.
Varga later provided us a new document to replace that document. This new one shows Walker's getting well more than its money's worth, not just 55 cents. The I-team found the new document includes capital costs that aren't paid directly by Walker property owners but he still thinks the city's getting quality transit.
The CEO didn't have an explanation for the document that showed the amount of people getting on or off the bus in Walker.
Please click on the video for the rest of the story. We are posting all the documents we mentioned in this piece on our website here as well so you can see the methodologies used.
They can be found by clicking here.