GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Patrons of a bus route on the bustling Michigan Street corridor in Grand Rapids will soon ride for free due to an investment from the city and Spectrum Health.

The Rapid bus route 19 will become free on August 27 and will run during non-peak hours. The three-year trial is an attempt to increase ridership at one of the lowest performing routes in the Rapid's system, said Josh Naramore, manager of Mobile GR and Parking Services.

"I believe only about 50 people rode [route 19] a day," Naramore said. "Under this new proposal, we're hoping to actually get that up between 800-1,000 riders a day, which would actually make it one of the most heavily-used transit corridors."

The current route is only active for around three hours in the mornings and evenings. The new schedule will operate between 5:20 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays.

Buses will arrive every ten minutes during the peak morning hours from 5:20 a.m. to 8:41 a.m., and evening hours from 3:21 p.m. to 5:41 p.m. Drivers will stop every 15 minutes during regular hours.

The route ran west from the intersection of Plymouth Avenue NE and Michigan Street NE to Bridge Street NW and Stocking Avenue NW. The new design is slightly shorter.

Not only will the free route decrease traffic congestion, it will ease the burden of parking, Naramore said.

"This actually is a direct line of service for some of our near West Side parking facilities over and up to some of the employment that exists up the hill on Michigan Street," he said.

Both the city and Spectrum Health are investing approximately $293,000 each of the three years. That will subsidize about 80 percent of the total cost, and the Rapid will cover the rest, Naramore said.

The changes will ease the difficulties Spectrum employees face getting from their designated parking lots to the organization's many facilities along the Medical Mile, said, Rick Redetzke, president of facilities and real estate.

"We operate our own shuttle system," Redetzke said. "We still maintain the service levels we need to get our staff to work on time, and yet we offer a solution for the community that will allow other riders to ride it."

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