July 27, 2009

Mich. students, charter carriers partner for airport rides


MSA airBus is able to charge walk-on fares directly to student accounts. Passengers simply swipe their student ID cards and the $11 fare appears on the regular card statement.


In order to fill the need for transportation between Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan (U-M) and the Detroit-Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA) partnered with private charter carriers to create MSA airbus. The service is available before and after U-M breaks, which amounts to about 20 service days per year.

Although a commuter rail option is being studied, no other low-cost transit options currently exist for students needing to travel the 25 miles between the airport and campus. “We set up MSA airBus as a sort of stop-gap transit option,” says Neil Greenberg, who directs service development.

Schedules are posted online a month before each break. Students purchase tickets for rides to the airport, but can board the return trip for free. Tickets purchased in advance cost $7. Greenberg points out that a taxi ride or van service for the same trip would cost $50 to $70 each way. “Since MSA airBus began in 2002, we’ve saved our customers an estimated $2.8 million in cab fares,” he says.

With the cooperation of U-M Student Financial Operations, MSA airBus is able to charge walk-on fares directly to student accounts. Passengers simply swipe their student ID cards and the $11 fare appears on the regular card statement.

MSA airBus is staffed entirely by students, who handle marketing, finance, scheduling, operations and human resources, and pick up on-the-job skills at the same time.

Until last year, fares covered 100 percent of the service’s costs. Because MSA airBus is part of student government, MSA was able to cover the difference in the 2008-09 school year. Additional marketing efforts — including a Twitter feed — are lined up to help increase ridership and thus cover costs for this coming year, Greenberg says.

MSA airBus is working with the university’s International Student Affairs Commission to add a new service for international students at the beginning of the school year. In addition, airBus will partner with a local restaurant that recently purchased two cutaway buses for late-night rides. “The small buses will run a feeder route in neighborhoods not directly served by MSA airBus, then drop customers off at a regular MSA airBus stop,” Greenberg says.

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