Early birds and night owls rejoice: Michigan Flyer is spreading its wings

If you've ever booked a flight from an airport located more than an hour's drive away, or had to hand over what felt like half of your retirement fund to pay for long term parking at an airport, then you have been faced with that most common of flyer's conundrums: drive or ride?
The Michigan Flyer AirRide Service, founded in 2006 by Indian Trails, Inc and Okemos Travel, provides convenient and reliable round trip service between East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. As we in Lansing know it now, that service is eight daily trips between its three destinations. But that's about to change.

Starting on November 15, the Michigan Flyer will be expanding from eight to twelve trips daily between East Lansing and Ann Arbor, and feature an improved schedule for trips between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport.

"This increase in frequency will finally give passengers what they've wanted for years -- the convenience of near hourly service between early morning and late evening, seven days a week," says Gordon Mackay, CEO of Michigan Flyer.

This welcomed schedule expansion is the result of a one-time federal grant issued to the Michigan Flyer by the Federal Highway Administration. Although the grant was openly opposed by the Lansing Airport, it was narrowly accepted in the end by a vote of ten to nine. The swing vote was provided by Ingham County Commissioner Brian McGrain, who had been absent the month before when the commission deadlocked in a nine to nine vote.

"After careful consideration of the options, I voted yes," says Commissioner McGrain. "I heard overwhelmingly from my constituents that they wanted Michigan Flyer to have the opportunity to expand its routes. All of them understood the issues well, and all of them had compelling stories to share, about how they make travel choices. While I have always been a strong supporter of our local airport, I was convinced by many sources that this would not spell an end for the airport."

This newly expanded schedule allows travelers to connect with about 700 nonstop flights between Detroit Metro Airport and a wide variety of domestic and international destinations. By increasing the number of trips on a daily basis, the Michigan Flyer now also provides direct access to almost 150 more arrivals and departures than they had before.

For MSU's out-of-state and international students, who are quite often not vehicle owners, going home to visit family or coming back to school would be considerably harder without the Michigan Flyer. The East Lansing pick up and drop off location, which is right on the edge of campus, allows for easy and convenient access. "For those passengers who don't or can't drive, this is a critical improvement in expanding public transportation options," says Mackay.

In addition to more trips, the new schedule starts earlier in the morning and ends later in the evening, accommodating travelers from East Lansing as early as 2:45 a.m. and as late as 10:30 p.m. from Detroit Metro Airport. So for those of you with red-eye flights, you can finally park your car in East Lansing for just two dollars a day and get some rest on route to the airport. Also, the wait times between buses will be much shorter, making a missed bus far less of a setback for a time-conscious traveler.

And if the convenience isn't enough reason to be in favor of this newly expanded schedule, there's the positive effect it will have on the local economy to consider. "The expanded schedule is also a plus for the Greater Lansing and Ann Arbor areas." says Chad Cushman, Indian Trails VP. "One third of our passengers come from out-of-state to do business, attend conventions, and visit family and friends. That's 30,000 people a year spending millions locally. Increased frequency will attract more of them."

According to studies conducted by the American Bus Association, motor coaches use, on average, the least amount of energy and produce the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per passenger mile of any of the modes of transportation they analyzed. The fleet of coaches employed by the Michigan Flyer are all equipped with engine technology that exceeds current EPA standards, producing almost no air pollution emissions and achieving high fuel economy.
"For every coach bus on the highway, that's about 50 cars that aren't," says Cushman. "More trips offered means less cars, which is less highway congestion and less pollution. It just makes sense. That's what we're trying to do here."

Driving means you watch the road. Riding means you check your email, read an update on your favorite blog, or take a nap. With all the stresses associated with travel as a whole, if there's an option that allows you to save money and relax while doing it, wouldn't you jump at the chance? More than 100,000 people per year already do.

So, when confronted with the 'drive or ride' dilemma, the Michigan Flyer asks, in short, "Why drive?"

Sarah Hillman is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

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