Dale Hein and Bill Schomisch from Kalamazoo Metro Transit joined us early this afternoon to talk about their efforts to merge out-county and city transit operations under one, county-wide umbrella. The new transit authority has encountered numerous hurdles as they seek to move away from systems that have been operating as two separate authorities, many times offering similar services to identical constituencies. This has been a long-term project that began shortly after the 2000 census and continues today. While the failure of a unified millage proposal on the November 2008 ballot has set plans back slightly, this group is determined to find ways to integrate urban and rural service offerings and reduce inefficiency and duplication of effort. One great example is the recent consolidation of two similar demand-response programs targeted at seniors and the disabled. The city and county had both been offering this service to residents, to the point where each program may have been sending a separate van to the same location to pick up different riders. Local officials recognized this duplication and this summer accepted a bid for a new combined, demand response system. Opportunities for collaboration continue to be pursued as transit officials are partnering with Southwest Michigan First and other local business leaders to examine current service offerings and identify future service needs as a way to leverage regional transit as an economic development tool. Attendees asked questions about Kalamazoo Metro Transit's experience with the differences in cost between fixed route and demand response services, their efforts to look long-term at connection opportunities with the neighboring communities of Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, and whether other constituencies within the county may be interested in collaboration. These presenters offered a great opportunity for attendees to become informed of the long history involved in bringing these two systems closer together and to learn from Kalamazoo Metro Transit's experiences as they look within their own communities for opportunities to work together.