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The Rapid - Peter Varga walks out of interview - Part 2

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Published on May 30, 2012

I-Team: Some communities may drop The Rapid service

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Earlier this evening, the I-Team broke the news that some people in Grandville and Walker want their cities to back out of The Rapid bus system altogether.

Signatures will soon be collected, we were told, in both areas in hopes of putting a measure on the November ballot.

It would likely ask voters to consider phasing out property tax payments, potentially ending a longstanding relationship with The Rapid.

The I-Team rode several buses in a week's time, and pulled ridership numbers in through the Freedom of Information Act for an entire week in April to sample.

The numbers we obtained indicated that 80% of The Rapid's late evening buses are carrying fewer than 10 passengers--less than 15% capacity.

6% of trips sampled had zero passengers. No use whatsoever.

Our numbers regarding sluggish evening ridership conflict with The Rapid's recent news release touting a double digit jump in weekday evening ridership.

Media agencies widely reported a 26.5% increase, and CEO Peter Varga said the evening ridership is making, "an immediate, positive impact."

The I-Team discovered that The Rapid's numbers were calculated by adding in student bus riders from GVSU and GRCC--who aren't paying customers.

The schools take care of the students' cost, not taxpayers.

An executive at The Rapid admitted we were right and that the numbers in the release were misleading, but Varga stood by what he originally said.

We talked to Jeff Steinport, founder of ITPwatch.org, a local watchdog organization, which is leading the petition drive in Grandville and Walker.

There's a belief that Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids have way too much power over the others and the Board of Directors aren't watching taxpayer money.

"Their only interest is expanding service regardless of the cost and there's nobody on that board questioning it," Steinport said.

We found that if the IPT did lose Walker and Grandville, it might not matter financially to The Rapid.

In budget documents for the ITP, reports show a surplus of around $1 million this year, as taxpayers spend $1 million this year for evening bus service improvements.

We wanted to know if that surplus money could or should be given to the taxpayers.

Varga didn't confirm a surplus when we asked him about it, and abruptly stopped the interview.

Leaders at The Rapid publicly reported the inaccurate 26.5% increase in evening ridership on taxpayer money, but even after our questioning they didn't provide us with completed numbers to show what the real increase was for evening ridership.

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