Community Faces: Bill Kennis takes over as Benzie Bus executive director

Community Faces: Bill Kennis takes over as Benzie Bus executive director

From staff reports

“Connecting people to community” is the motto of Benzie Bus, and the public transit organization’s new mission is to connect communities in Benzie County with one another and with Traverse City. Our nearby metropolis represents the hub of a 21-county “micropolitan region” with a population nearing 150,000 — for its commerce and services, but also its festivals, cuisine and entertainment.

To undertake this mission, Benzie Bus hired Bill Kennis in March as its new executive director. According to a press release, Kennis was recommended for the position by Tom Menzel, Executive Director of the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), which serves Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.
“We look forward to working closely with Mr. Kennis and his staff on finding innovative and creative ways to add value to the respective areas that we service,” said Mr. Menzel. “We know that he believed in collaboration with others while working at the History Center, and we feel that approach will put our two organizations in philosophical alignment going forward.”

This year, Kennis and operations manager Chad Hollenbeck will collaborate to lead a major study of the transportation needs of Benzie County residents and visitors, using grant funds recently awarded by the Michigan Department of Transportation and Rotary Charities of Traverse City. The results will guide the design and implementation of future routes and services within Benzie County, as well as links to neighboring counties. The mission of Benzie Bus is to connect people of all ages and abilities to our community and promote independence and prosperity through a safe and convenient public transit system.

We talked with Kennis about this new mission, and how he came aboard.

Betsie Current: Congratulations on taking the helm of the Benzie Bus! Tell us what led you to this opportunity.

Bill Kennis: “I was looking for a new job after leaving the History Center of Traverse City. My experiences “downstate” leading a School Board and serving on Troy’s DDA had given me some knowledge about community stewardship and felt that the Benzie Transit Authority Team was a solid organization I’d be honored to work with.”

Current: You live in the community, yes? What are your favorite local activities? Any favorite, dining, recreation, hiking spots?

Kennis: “We’ve been homeowners in Frankfort since 2004 and I’m active with Boy Scouts and Little League Baseball. We’ve hiked North Country Trail in Mesick, which is such an amazing local trek. Regarding dining spots; there are so many like Fusion, Mayfair for Wings, Cru and now Storm Cloud … Frankfort/Elberta is a foodie area!”

Current: We understand that the Benzie Bus is taking something of a new direction. What is that direction, and how will it impact Benzie citizens?

Kennis: “I’m fortunate that the Benzie Transit Authority Board successfully received grants for conducting a County Needs Assessment to determine whether citizens would like express routes to TC, M-22 destinations and for seasonal Festivals, and generally what programs can we offer inter & intra-county to serve our customers better. “Buses without Boarders” we need to work in a collaborative fashion with the other county public transit providers to continuously improve and become more efficient. If we can do more with less funding; potentially we can expand and maybe offer evening and weekend service.”

Current: In general, how does this public transportation service enhance the Benzie community?

Kennis: “We provide about 90,000 customers exceptional service. Our riders rely on Benzie Bus to meet their non-emergency medical needs, for shopping, for school and work. It’s hard to imagine many of our riders functioning without our cost effective dial-a-ride and flex-route services.”

Current: Any particular compliments you’ve received from citizens? How about constructive critiques?

Kennis: “Surveys suggest that our Drivers and Dispatchers are truly customer focused. “They are courteous and helpful” and “easy to get around” according to some riders. Four-five riders rate Benzie Bus service as “Excellent” for on-time, affordability, convenience, friendliness & cleanliness and comfort … it’s a great program and the Staff and Board aim to make it better!”

Current: What inherits challenges do you face in your job? What’s the toughest part?

Kennis: “The toughest part will be attracting riders who are, like many of us, used to driving themselves everywhere which costs much more than a $3 bus fare. We have to be ready to service the non-riders and change habits. Teens should feel comfortable with going to the Mall for a movie and wouldn’t it be great to attend the Film Festival without driving and the stress and costs associated with parking? How about airport service someday? “Buses without Boarders is our mantra”.

Current: What’s on the horizon for Benzie Bus? What does the organization aspire to accomplish in coming years?

Kennis: “On May 10the entire Board and Staff (all employees) along with Community Leaders will participate in a Strategic Visioning session facilitated by NorthSky that will be the first-step in laying the groundwork for a superior bus services for everyone.”

Current: Any message you’d like to broadcast to our Benzie readership?

Kennis: “Try us, you’ll like us! It’s our community and we all win with fewer cars on the road and a reliable, cost-effective public transit service that helps everyone, we’re bringing workers to jobs and growing the Benzie economy, great place to work and live.”

Approximately one-third of Benzie Bus riders are senior citizens; one third are people with disabilities, and the remainder includes students, commuters and shoppers. The Benzie Bus system operates countywide Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Benzie Bus also offers hourly connections – from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., by reservation only – to the BATA bus system at Ric’s Food Center in Interlochen. For more information, or to schedule a ride, call Benzie Bus at (231) 325-3000 or toll free at (866) 325-3380. Visit the bus system online at

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Jacob Wheeler

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