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      Feds slam brakes on BATA busing students

      The Bay Area Transportation Authority has ordered the Federal Transit Authority to stop it's so-called Flex Routes in Suttons Bay.

      The Bay Area Transportation Authority has been ordered by the Federal Transit Administration to stop it's so-called Flex Routes in Suttons Bay.

      The flex routes are being used by the Suttons Bay School District to get students to class since it discontinued its busing service back in 2010.

      BATA officials say the 7 routes that the students use are also available for the public to use as well.

      The ruling to stop the flex routes from the FTA comes after the National School Transportation Association filed a claim. The claim states that BATA violated federal regulations that limit the amount of service a mass transportation agency can provide to schools.

      The decision to appeal the order lies on BATA, and Executive Director Tom Menzel said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the FTA's order.

      "Yes, I'd love to appeal, but I have to take a step back as a business person, said Menzel. "It's a problem that we have to look at as a staff... we have to analyze it and we have to make the best long-term decision for BATA and for the community. I don't know the outcome of that, but it's not a decision that needs to be made right away. It needs to be thought through carefully."

      Menzel also said BATA is closely reviewing what the FTA is saying.

      "We worked with MDOT every step of the way when this was established," Menzel said. "It seemed like a win-win, but rural fixed and flex-route transit is very complicated. We were just trying to make public transit work for all sectors of the community."

      Suttons Bay school officials say the busing system is saving the district about $650,000 per year, or what Mike Murray, Suttons Bay Public Schools Superintendent, says is equal to about 8 teaching jobs.

      "Transportation is not cheap, and in a small, rural district, for us that represents about $650,000 or 10% of our budget," said Murray. And as you know, with school districts, there's not a lot of money lying around."

      And if Suttons Bay Public Schools loses BATA's services?

      "We'll have to come up with $500,000 in a hurry," said Murray.

      But BATA's funding is also at stake. BATA receives approximately $1 million a year in federal transit funding (about 16% of its budget). If BATA doesn't comply with this order, they lose all funding.