County Expands COAST

Commissioners Wednesday also approved a contract between the COA and BATA to expand a free busing program for county seniors age 60 and older.


Commissioners Wednesday also approved a contract between the Commission on Aging (COA) and Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) to expand a free busing program for county seniors age 60 and older. The COAST (Commission On Aging Senior Transit) bus provides door-to-door service on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8am to 5pm, offering free transportation to seniors anywhere in Grand Traverse County by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. The bus is outfitted with handicap-accessible lifts and can pick seniors up at their front door, drop them at their exact destination point, and bring them back home.

“Transportation is important for all of us regardless of age, but when someone loses their ability to drive, it’s not about just how you’re going to get somewhere – it’s really about losing your independence,” COA Director Cindy Kienlen told commissioners. “This is for people who literally cannot drive and need the assistance to the door with help.”

The program provided 2,524 rides to 175 unique riders in 2018 at a cost of just over $40,000. Kienlen said the program has such high demand that it frequently has to turn away riders, sometimes denying twice as many as riders as it's able to accommodate due to scheduling. COA plans to expand the program to four days a week in June – adding Thursday service as of June 6 – and then to five days a week in October, adding Tuesday service as of October 1. The increased level of service and an escalation in BATA fees of 16 percent by the end of 2019 will raise the program cost to $58,760 for 2019 and $82,504 for 2020.

Alger noted COAST costs are covered through COA millage funds and donations, not county general fund dollars, and pointed out that “voters approved the millage to provide services to the seniors.” According to Kienlen, the overall transportation budget for COA – which also offers cab vouchers and BATA Link and Loop passes for seniors based on income levels - will stay nearly the same. Increased funding for COAST will be balanced by decreased demand by seniors for the other transportation options, she says, lowering costs for those programs. COA is also exploring other future transit opportunities, such as a partnership with Lyft, according to Kienlen.

Commissioner Bryce Hundley said the large number of repeat users on the COAST bus indicated to him that people find the program a "valuable service.”

“We have a Commission on Aging to serve specific needs for our aging population, and this seems to be one of the needs,” Hundley said. “It seems to be one that’s valued by the people who have found it and are using it. I would endorse this program…and having a chance to see how it grows and giving it a chance to flourish.”