Could the days of panicking over the lunch hour rush parking nightmare be numbered? The odds are closer in your favor, should you be commuting via bus between Old Town and downtown.

CATA’s free Grab & Go Express program expands Route 17 for people running midday errands and grabbing lunch. New routes will run weekdays between 10 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. — from downtown to Old Town — with 26 stops. Departures will leave every 15 minutes.

“People working downtown during the day will now have direct transportation to Old Town and vice versa. That’s huge for our commercial corridors. The Grab & Go Express trial is a great option for residents and visitors alike,” said Mayor Andy Schor.

Grab & Go Express was approved by the CATA board of directors for one year. Depending on how the trial goes, CATA will choose to close, maintain or expand the route.

CATA CEO Bradley T. Funkhouser said REO Town and the Stadium District are the next contenders for the free route, pending the success of the trial.

“This idea has been floated by the business community and riders for the last couple of years,” Funkhouser said.

Having looked at other “open door” bus services in Grand Rapids, Funkhouser contends free rides are a proven way to lessen traffic and increase commerce to local business.

And some Old Town businesses are openly optimistic about his plan.

Tate Skiba, general manager of Meat BBQ in Old Town, said he hopes it brings new faces into the neighborhood.

“It is a little hidden district, and there is no easy way to bike or walk here. Having a free system down here really opens it up,” Skiba said. “Old Town has a lot to offer now, besides what we had in the past. Maybe they can come for lunch and then bring back their families for dinner.”

Lisa McMahon, director of marketing at the Potent Potables Project, said Punk Taco hosted a group from the inaugural ride.

“We think it will be helpful for people and the other retail operations in Old Town.”

The Potent Potables Project, which oversees the Creole, Punk Taco, Zoobies and Cosmos, stands to gain big if passengers from downtown come for lunch.

“This is a big win for our community,” said Tim Daman, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “It’s a solution that should get workers out of their offices during the workweek, and increase foot traffic in storefronts and businesses.

Lansing’s regional neighborhoods are growing in popularity. Funkhouser said this is the first step in a better connected Lansing.“We’re looking at how to connect the neighborhoods in our city like a string of pearls.”

According to the press release, CATA is already in the process of adding new stops to Washington Square to facilitate additional traffic.

“This is the first step in beginning to create better mobility across the region. All boats rise on high tide.”