By Elijah Taub
Lacking access to transportation is a significant barrier to employment, especially in rural areas and small towns.
Walking and biking are not viable commuting options for rural areas.
And owning a car is expensive in Michigan — the cost is 12% higher than the national average, according to the American Automobile Association 2022 Driving Costs Report.
That leaves public transportation – if available – as one of the only choices for some residents.
“There are transportation barriers across the state,” said Susan Corbin, the director of the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
The state doesn’t have a “strong public transportation system, Corbin said, adding that the department is focusing attention on ways to reduce transportation-related obstacles to state residents looking for jobs.
Michigan is 40th in transportation, including public transit, commute time and road and bridge quality across the country, according to U.S.News & World Report rankings.
“One of the issues that will come up sometimes is that people don’t have transportation from their residence to the nearest bus stop if it’s an area with line-haul service,” said Clark Harder, the executive director of the Okemos-based Michigan Public Transit Association.
A line-haul service goes to designated stops along a route. However, he said, a prospective rider could live out of walking distance from a bus stop.
Some communities have a demand-response service, Harder continued, “That’s usually door-to-door, so accessibility isn’t as much of an issue.”
In such systems, a bus picks up passengers in a designated service area for a specific time period.
For example, Ludington has a demand-response service that picks up people on request.
“We definitely have an impact on getting our community to their needs. Public transit is used well in our community to get people to and from work,” said the executive director of the Ludington Mass Transportation Authority, Paul Keson.
Michigan has some form of public transportation in all counties but it may be difficult to access, Harder said. The reasons include a shortage of drivers, limited routes and hours of service, traffic, construction and affordability.
In addition, the last call for the Ludington & Pere Marquette Charter Township bus service is at 6:30 p.m. Therefore, riders who work past that time would have to rely on a different form of transportation.
Buses are often late because of construction or traffic, and Keson said the Ludington authority is trying to secure more funding for new dispatch technology.
“There’s a lot of new services out there that I know other transit agencies have gotten grants for. We’re keeping an eye on that to see what the best direction to move in is,” he said.
Elijah Taub reports for Capital News Service