Photos by // michael gleason Photography
The MTA is basically a bus company, right? That’s the impression that many in Genesee County might have of the Mass Transportation Authority. But it’s only a part of the picture. According to MTA Flint general manager/CEO Ed Benning, there is a lot more to the MTA than just being a bus company.
According to Benning, one of the greatest misunderstandings about the MTA is that it provides transportation only in the city of Flint. He said that when people see the buses going by on their usual routes on Saginaw or Court Street, they often think that is the only activity of the MTA. Benning feels that the MTA is clearly a part of the Flint and Genesee County community, but in reality the usual bus routes are only part of its activity, and that part has been shrinking slightly in recent years.
“The times are changing,” he says, and in its 47th year the MTA is changing with them, as it looks to expand and customize its services.
The real growth and the major impact of the MTA has been, and will be, in more specialized services. One of the goals of the MTA is to fill in the gaps in both the public and private transportation services available in Genesee County.
Benning says that one goal of the MTA is “to be a model for medical, special-needs and work-related transportation.”
One of the fastest growing services of the MTA has been in providing nonemergency medical transportation to those who need it. It is currently developing a Rides to Wellness program that would provide same-day transportation to those who need to get to doctor’s appointments or pick up needed medicine at the pharmacy. Benning says MTA Flint has been ranked first in the nation in its ability to provide public medical transportation to those who need it.
According to Benning, as more and more people in the area age in place (at home) and more people deal with disabilities, the medical transportation services the MTA provides become even more important. Reflecting the medical focus, during a recent trip to Washington, DC, Benning and lawmakers worked to amend part of the Medicare law so that, in some situations, medical transportation could be provided by public transportation, rather than more costly ambulances.
MTA Flint has been ranked first in the nation in its ability to
provide public medical transportation to those who need it.
The MTA is more than a local bus company in other ways. It provides transportation for those who work in a number of surrounding counties. Though it’s a Genesee County organization, every day the MTA takes workers from Genesee County to Oakland, Shiawassee, Saginaw, Lapeer, Livingston and Washtenaw Counties. The routes run 70 miles to the south, 50 miles to the west, 30 miles to the east and 45 miles to the north. Over 1.5 million riders use the MTA to get to work regularly. By allowing employees to live here yet pursue work opportunities beyond the county, the MTA brings income back into Genesee County. By providing skilled workers for companies outside the county, the ride-to-work program also has opened a new funding avenue for the MTA when other sources of revenue are getting tighter. Currently there are about 30 ride-to-work routes that are financially supported, in part, by partnerships with companies that are willing to assist in bringing talented workers from our area to their businesses.
Benning hopes that those 30 routes will grow to 50 routes in the future. The MTA is also exploring the possibility of creating an I-75, I-69 and U.S. 23 transportation corridor that would connect workers all along the freeway routes.
The MTA has grown over the years from a local transit service to become a major factor in the growth and development of Genesee County and the surrounding area with its core and special-needs services. Currently the MTA runs buses on 14 primary fixed routes, seven days a week, with over four million riders a year. Additionally, it offers 83 routes during times when demands are high.
The regional bus service connects riders from Genesee County to five surrounding counties for both work and medical transportation. Over 5.5 million passengers are able to take advantage of the regional service.
The Your Ride service provides transportation for the elderly, the disabled or those who live outside the MTA fixed route area. Over 450,000 riders take advantage of the Your Ride service annually.
The growing list of special services now includes Your Ride Plus for nonemergency medical transportation, a Ride to Groceries and a Senior Shopper program to give residents access to healthy food.
The MTA’s recently developed strategic plan lays the groundwork for an exciting future for the organization. In addition to expanding its special services, the MTA hopes to expand its partnerships with other organizations in the region. It currently works with a number of senior centers and organizations, such as Jewish Community Services and the Visually Impaired Center. In the years to come, the hope is to explore the possibility of a regional transportation authority that would include Genesee, Lapeer and Shiawassee Counties.
The MTA also expects to continue the shift to alternative fuels, which produce less pollution than traditional diesel. Currently more than a third of the buses are fueled with propane, compressed natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells. As a result, the MTA has reduced its diesel fuel consumption by over 500,000 gallons in recent years.
As is true for many organizations, funding is always a challenge. Meeting that challenge will be the key to expanding the range and nature of services and funding the regular replacement of buses and other vehicles in a timely fashion. In the end, the MTA looks to a “future that is positive and filled with possibilities” and will continue “to build a robust public transportation system that serves all Genesee County residents,” Benning says.