When it comes to the battle over the upcoming bus tax hike on the ballot May 3rd in the cities of Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Walker, Wyoming, and Grandville the arguments have become heated. The pro-millage Friends of Transit and their opposition, the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance, have been presenting differing visions of the 31% bus tax hike and the performance of the Rapid.
One very common argument the Friends of Transit makes is questioning why KCTA spokesman Dr. Eric Larson is weighing in on the conversation at all since he is a resident of Cascade Township and will not have the opportunity to vote on the millage question. They also point to the benefits of an expansive public transit system that encourages people to stay downtown and shun urban sprawl. They argue that Grand Rapids must have a large public transportation system to be a vibrant town.
This value, however, runs counter to the actions of Rapid CEO Peter Varga. Mr. Varga has been heading the Rapid for 13 years and moved to Belmont in March of 2010. Mr. Varga, who points to the many benefits of the bus system, now lives nearly five miles from the nearest bus stop according to the Rapid’s own trip planner.
“We do not begrudge Mr. Varga’s decision to move to the country nor do we particularly care that he lives so far from the nearest bus stop,” said KCTA spokesman Larson. “However, we find the attacks on me from the Friends of Transit to be hypocritical when their chief executive officer lives more than twice as far away from a stop as me. He contributes financially to the campaign and often points out the advantages of the bus system when he is not in the voting district either.”
“I speak for our organization which covers the entire county with the bulk of its citizens and our volunteers living in the taxing authority. Our volunteer coordinator lives in Kentwood in Bailey’s Grove but is still nearly two miles from the nearest bus stop. Our project manager lives in downtown Grand Rapids and is about ten feet from the nearest stop. Our mission is simply to provide voters with transparency of the Rapid’s operations and the details on their proposals, like the Silver Line, so that voters can make informed decisions on election day.”