The Flyer is the future
|By Berl Schwartz|
Our cover this week makes a little fun of my friend Chris Holman (well, I hope he is still my friend) for his role in the airport-Michigan Flyer controversy.
Holman, who chairs the airport authority and is the pilot on our cover, has been in the forefront of the formidable opposition to a federal grant to the Michigan Flyer that would allow it to run four additional trips between East Lansing and Ann Arbor. Holman and others could care less about Ann Arbor. What they oppose is the rest of the trip: The buses would continue to Detroit Metro, arguably (but disputably) taking more passengers out of planes using Capital Region International Airport than the eight bus trips a day the Flyer is already making.
In our cover story, Andy Balaskovitz has ably laid out the case for supporting the grant, which we hope Ingham County Commissioner Brian McGrain will take to heart. McGrain is a member of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, which split 9-9 in May on the issue — in McGrain’s absence. McGrain would have to reverse himself from his vote against a similar grant two years ago. He has already said he favors reconsidering the grant; now when the commission reconsiders the grant next week, he needs to take the next step and follow in the lead of fellow commissioner Shirley Rodgers, who realized that opposing the grant is inconsistent with the big-picture plans for mid-Michigan that she has supported.
McGrain, one of the region’s better pols, needs to show leadership and independence, which will further his cred with the more progressive elements in our community.
On “City Pulse Newsmakers” this week, McGrain expressed his hope that the two sides would get together before the commission reconsiders it. Well, it’s not going to happen, for the very same reason that Holman and Bob Selig, who runs the airport, declined — without explanation — to be on the show with the Flyer’s Ody Norkin. They didn’t want to debate Norkin, and for good reason: The ex-Israeli tank commander is as tough when armed with the facts as he was with weaponry in the Yom Kippur War.
The airport siders are preferring to work behind the scenes, bolstering Norkin and our cover story’s argument that this is about politics, not the merits.
The reality is that the two sides cannot get together because they don’t speak the same language. The Flyer side represents the expansion of interurban mass transit, which Michigan is sorely lacking — Norkin says it is the worst in the nation. The airport folks are concerned about turning Lansing into flyover country, but what we are left with is an airport with mediocre and often expensive service. It’s nice for the well-off that we can attract what are essentially charters to resorts, but what about the transportation needs of the average person? Is it really our lot to support — to the tune of $4.5 million in taxes, all from Ingham Co. residents — an airport for the convenience of business travelers and well-heeled leisure travelers? And even business travelers balk, sometimes running private shuttles to Metro. They’d no doubt run more were it not for the pressure from the airport establishment in their misguided belief that the airport can return to its glory days.
No, the best future for Lansing and Michigan is in ground transportation, as has long been the standard in many countries and is becoming so in other regions of the United States. Buses and trains are where we should be headed in Michigan.
Those are our best bet for getting people out of cars and planes making short trips, such as to Detroit, to their detriment of our environment. Our story makes a strong case for backing the grant because of the environmental benefits. The fewer people driving their cars to Metro and the fewer planes making those short hops to and from Metro, the better our environment is going to be.
Norkin says the Flyer’s target isn’t plane passengers: it’s the 800 people a day driving to Metro from Lansing. The Flyer has already captured 20 percent of them, lowering that number from 1,000. He thinks with the help of this grant, which by increasing trips would make the Flyer more appealing, it can get another 10 percent.
McGrain and the nine commissioners who voted against the grant last month should help us turn the corner to a better future when the issue is in front of them again next week. The airport may not be history, but it is not the future, at least not the one that is best for our community.