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Plans by Michigan Flyer to expand East Lansing to Ann Arbor bus trips spark opposition

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Plans by a shuttle service that serves travellers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport to expand its trips between East Lansing and Ann Arbor have sparked opposition.

Michigan Flyer LLC wants to add four daily trips to its current eight between East Lansing and Ann Arbor, where connections to Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus are available.

The plans have fueled debate about whether taxpayer money should be used to subsidize business, the Lansing State Journal reported (http://on.lsj.com/10xaubx ). The Capital Region International Airport near Lansing said Michigan Flyer is trying to take its potential passengers.

Bob Selig, executive director of the Capital Region Airport Authority, said Michigan Flyer instead should add service based on demand, reinvesting money from existing fares into new routes. He said the four new routes would cost the airport $1.1 million in annual passenger revenue.

“What happens when you start throwing the grant money around is you start to change that competition to where it starts to get out of kilter, and one mode of transportation has an advantage over the other,” Selig said.

Michigan Flyer got a $595,000 federal grant to support the expansion. The East Lansing-based bus company said it wants to give travellers more choices, and it isn’t trying to take potential airport passengers. It said the estimate from Selig about the cost to the airport is too high.

“What business do you know that starts up, adds that kind of frequency and makes money right away? None. That’s the point of the grant, to cover that interim period until it becomes profitable,” said Chad Cushman, business vice-president of Indian Trails Inc., which owns Michigan Flyer.

“After that, we’re on our own. We do not intend to cut the service.”

The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is to vote Wednesday on whether to add the routes to a regional transportation plan. The approval would be a required condition of the Federal Highway Administration before it releases the grant funding.

In return, the company would contribute nearly $149,000 toward operations. It also would buy a sixth bus using $550,000 in company funds.

The state already helps fund such private-sector bus service in Michigan. Contracts include those to Owosso-based Indian Trails to run bus routes in rural northern areas, including the Upper Peninsula, where transportation options are fewer in places.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com