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In the late 1990’s, a group of Benzie County citizens held monthly meetings to discuss the need for public transportation in their community. In February of 2005, they officially launched the Benzie Bus Initiative. One of the Initiative’s goals was to bolster economic growth, in addition to the obvious work related benefits; public transportation connects residents, visitors and consumers to local businesses and other places of recreation which is vital to the economy. The citizen team also knew that affordable and consistent transportation would improve educational opportunities in both schools and the workplace. Creating this link gives more people access to job training, increased educational and employment opportunities, and social service programs.
In April of 2006, the Benzie County Board of Commissioners formed the Benzie Transportation Authority and appointed 10 county residents to the Board of Directors. The Board engaged the community through meetings, a grassroots approach, to earn community support. The voters approved the millage request for .50 mils by – 58% yes, 42% no. Voter turnout was 34%, which was double the turnout in the previous primary election and it was the first time in Michigan’s history that a public transportation ballot had passed on the first attempt. In January 2007, the Benzie Bus became a reality, and opened its doors to the public.
The beginning operations employed 12 with 5 buses (transferred from the Council on Aging). Demand grew rapidly and by the end of our first year Benzie Bus provided over 68,000 one way rides. In 2009 and 2010 the Benzie Bus received Federal and State Appropriations that permitting the purchase of an existing building with 9 acres near the center of Benzie County. That coupled with American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funding allowed for the building of a 6 bay maintenance facility, and also to do a complete renovation of 13,000 square feet of office and parking storage space. The renovation of the entire site was completed in August of 2011. In May of 2011, the Benzie Bus sought a millage renewal of .05 mils and voters passed it by a 3 to 1 margin.
The ARRA funding also permitted the Benzie Bus to purchase 7 clean fuel Sprinter style buses. In 2013, 40 people were employed and the fleet grew to 22 vehicles providing over 89,000 rides.
In 2013, several founding Board Members and some of the Management Team moved-on. The fleet added an LP fuel conversion to 5 vehicles that reduces fuel cost, reduces emissions and prolongs engine life
The Benzie Transportation Authority is a public body governed by its Board of Directors and Management Team that run the Benzie Bus System. Up to 9 local residents sit on the county-appointed Board of Directors that represents general public interests of Benzie County. The Transportation Authority and its Board are an independent agency of the county. They are insured and bear sole legal and financial liability for the Benzie Bus system.