Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share with your readers the never-ending attempts by the Delta Area Transportation Authority to best serve the area, and how Escanaba and Wells townships can partner with our local transportation service to the benefit of many residents living there.
I am chair of the DATA Board of Directors. On Aug. 6 we are asking voters in those two townships to approve a very small property tax increase. Funds from that increase will be matched with state and federal funding, allowing DATA to greatly increase service in those two townships. All residents will be able to take advantage of that increased service, but the change will most greatly benefit senior citizens, young people, people with challenges, and the underemployed.
DATA turns 25 years old next year, and it continues to change its fleet and its operations ir order to provide efficient, cost-effective and top-quality service. That's most true in the cities of Escanaba and Gladstone, where residents there have approved property tax millage hikes for DATA.
Because of that, city residents receive on-time bus service at reduced fares. Meanwhile, township residents only receive very limited service that isn't very timely and, still, township residents must pay higher fares.
It's all based on cost of service and revenues. Service in the cities is much better and less expensive for riders, not only because property owners pay literally a few dollars more a month in taxes, but their contribution brings in more state and federal funds that now on being left on the table.
The same could be done in Escanaba and Wells townships if they also approve a very small hike in property taxes to benefit residents there.
DATA's revenues come from state and federal allocations, contracts with local agencies, fares from riders and millages in the cities of Escanaba and Gladstone.
Millage support in the cities allows for better staffing and more buses there. Meanwhile, DATA is forced to greatly minimize service in neighboring townships, and double fares for non-city residents, in an attempt to make ends meet.
If approved, the millage would lead to approximately $117,000 from Wells Township and $51,000 from Escanaba Township, with state and federal matches bringing in another $58,500 and $25,500, respectively.
While that would greatly improve service and reduce costs for riders in the townships, the impact on property owners would be negligible. Residents who own property with a $50,000 taxable value - or with a real value of $100,000 - would pay only $25 a year, or just $2.08 a month.
Currently township residents are often denied service because buses and/or drivers just aren't available. On limited occasions DATA will pick up township residents, but only if they are already in the vicinity transporting city residents to sites outside the city. And even when service is provided, pickup and drop-off times may be off by at least an hour
If approved, the millages would lead to the addition of drivers and buses, or mean current buses and drivers would spend more time on the road each week. Those buses and hours would be dedicated solely to the townships, allowing for demand response service so residents will picked up and dropped off anytime from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This increased service in the two townships would also be great news for residents who use wheelchairs. All buses are fitted for wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps, which take away seats for other passengers. Making buses more available means more ability to better service township residents in wheelchairs.
Most riders use DATA for trips to medical appointments, employment, shopping, Bay College or social activities. Without millage support township residents must either find other more costly options or stay home.
People who live in Delta County take pride - justifiably - in our quality of life, and showing care for family, friends and neighbors. This is a great way to further improve that quality of life by providing a little more independence to people who need it most.
The impact would be real. For example, in Wells Township, just the local millage would provide a bus and driver nine hours a day, or 2,000 hours a year. That doesn't include any increase in service due to more state and federal matching funds.
The increased transportation services would mean elderly residents would be able to live in their homes, often for several more years. Many of these residents use DATA when they're no longer able or willing to drive. It would also provide an option for residents who do not want to drive in bad weather.
I would like to sincerely thank DATA riders and supporters. I hope township residents understand while they may never ride on a DATA bus, someone down the street - a friend or a family member - will most likely appreciate and use the service. A couple bucks a month is a very small price to pay for helping those who need it most.