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Benton Harbor’s Dial-A-Ride undergoing study to improve service

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- It’s a lifeline for people who don’t have a car in Benton Harbor. And on Thursday evening, the Dial-A-Ride bus system was under a spotlight as riders were surveyed for a transportation study.

“There’s a lot of people up around here that don’t have transportation,” said Hope Jones, who uses the bus service. “And Dial-A-Ride comes in handy.”

It’s a common sight in Benton Harbor.

And if you don’t own a car and don’t hop a ride on a Dial-A-Ride bus, you’re left with one option.

“You have to walk,” Jones said. “You have to walk cause some family members don’t want to take you.”

Jones came to a meeting on Thursday evening at Kinexus in Benton Harbor because she’s relied on Dial-A-Ride for most of her life.

She’s a fan of the bus service because she said it works for her.

But she thinks more buses would mean more efficiency.

“There’s a lot of people that got to go to the doctor’s office; a lot of them got to get to their jobs,” Jones said. “And a lot of them have to be at their jobs at a certain time. So they should have a special Dial-A-Ride for people that have to get to their jobs at a certain time. And then people that don’t, then they have a Dial-A-Ride for them.”

Several dozen riders showed up Thursday to fill out a survey about their experience riding the bus.

But not everyone in attendance supports the service.

Dave Leoni just bought a car because he said using Dial-A-Ride to get to work and his classes at Lake Michigan College proved to be impossible because the bus was always late.

“It was bringing too much stress to me,” Leoni said. “I wasn’t sleeping. I was losing sleep. It was affecting my performance at school and at work. So to better it, I had to do what I did.”

But mixed reviews were welcomed on Thursday.

Tierra Bills is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan who is overseeing the transportation study.

She said the more her team learns from riders, the more they can help.

“There’s a direct connection between public transportation accessibility and employment outcomes and health-related outcomes,” Bills said.

Some people who came to the meeting agreed to use an app on their phone or a GPS tracker for the next week to document how often they travel and what they use to get there.

Bills said the end goal is to use technology to make it easier for people who don’t have cars to get to places like work and the doctor without hassle.

She also said her team – which was brought in by Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad’s office – will give the city a report of their findings in the New Year.

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