By Chris Zeilinger

Why Mattawan Matters

January 9, 2020

Mattawan, Mich., shows us some of the key issues in 2020 that will influence the future of both urban and rural public transit.

I’d like to start the new year by saying a few words about Mattawan, Mich.

Why this small town 15 miles from Kalamazoo? If you were thinking it’s because that’s the place that Alex King of the CTAA staff calls home, that’s not it. Instead, I’m focusing on Mattawan because it shows us some of the key issues in 2020 that will influence the future of both urban and rural public transit.

Two of the most important things in Mattawan’s transit future will take place this spring:

  • On March 10, 2020, voters across Michigan’s Van Buren county, including the village of Mattawan, will be asked to continue the dedicated property tax millage that provides much of the local transit system’s operating budget.
  • April 1, 2020, is the official “reference day” for the nation’s decennial census. The population counts in communities across the country, including Mattawan, will shape the amount and nature of transit funds for the next decade.

For some perspective, let’s take a quick look at Mattawan and its transit program. This is one of those instances in which transit is provided through a county-wide entity, Van Buren Public Transit, which has been in operation since 1979. The transit program provides demand-response public transit throughout Van Buren county, and operates flexible fixed-route loops in the county’s four largest communities.

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Mattawan, though, is not one of Van Buren county’s larger communities. Its population in the 2010 census was 1,997. Therefore, its residents enjoy only the demand-response services provided by Van Buren Public Transit.

Speaking of the census, something interesting happened in Mattawan ten years ago. Prior to 2010, the census-designated Kalamazoo urbanized area was entirely within Kalamazoo county. But then, Census determined that a small corner of Van Buren county – the village of Mattawan, to be specific – had enough population density and proximity to become included in the Kalamazoo urbanized area. As a result, here’s what happened in and around Mattawan:

  • Local officials from Van Buren Public Transit, Van Buren county and several of the county’s municipalities, including Mattawan, now sit on the policy committee for the Kalamazoo Area Transportation Study (KATS is the Kalamazoo area’s metropolitan planning organization), where they help identify and prioritize transportation priorities for the entire urbanized area. Within the urbanized area, these priorities address road and bridge projects, active transportation projects for bicyclists and pedestrians, and transit projects.
  • Because the Mattawan’s portion of the urbanized area is fairly small in scope and population, the MPO and the transit agencies within Kalamazoo County chose not to disrupt Kalamazoo Metro’s status as the sole designated recipient of the area’s Section 5307 allocation from FTA, with the understanding that Kalamazoo Metro would use a small portion of these Section 5307 funds to acquire a limited number of transit vehicles for Van Buren’s transit program.
  • Van Buren Public Transit’s Section 5311 rural transit funds cannot be used to support transit services that are wholly within an urbanized area, including trips that are entirely within the village of Mattawan; however, the transit system receives sufficient state and local transit funding to avoid making this an awkward challenge for serving the transit-using residents of Mattawan.
  • Van Buren Public Transit presumably reports its transit service data to FTA’s National Transit Database (NTD) in such a way as to assure that the Mattawan-related vehicle revenue miles and related data are attributed to the Kalamazoo urbanized area. After all, these data are part of the basis – along with Mattawan’s population and population density – upon which FTA calculates its formula-based funding apportionments, which are made to urbanized areas, irrespective of individual jurisdictions or jurisdictional boundaries.

What will happen in the 2020 Census?

In all likelihood, Mattawan will remain part of the Kalamazoo urbanized area. According to recent population estimates, the village has lost some population since 2010, so there is a slight possibility that this year’s census results lead to the village once again being deemed as rural, instead of urban. In any case, it’s unlikely that much more of Van Buren County will be designated as part of an urbanized area, so the current arrangement between Kalamazoo and its once-rural neighbor probably will remain in place for another decade.

However, there are many Mattawans throughout what currently is rural America: small communities at the margins of urbanized areas that need only a slight population shift in this year’s census to become a part of a nearby urbanized area, with all the benefits and challenges that come with urbanized status. Looking at these “donuts” of now-rural areas that surround urbanized cores, I summarized seven different types of possibilities, which you can read at https://ctaa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/CensusUrbanDonutFlavors_Nov2019.pdf.

But here’s the basic lesson: If you’re a transit provider in a community like Mattawan, now is the time to start planning ahead.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.