We are bus riders and transit advocates across Metro Detroit organizing to fight for better public transit throughout the region. Transit justice is fundamental to achieving a just society, of racial equality, opportunity, environmental justice, and  freedom of mobility for all people, no matter their age, ability, or class. We believe that transportation is freedom, and that we can win it through the power of grassroots community organizing.

New to the Motor City Freedom Riders? You can join us here, where you can become a member or sign up for our email updates to learn more. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Will SMART Plan “Revolutionize” Transit, or Marginalize the RTA?

In a 30-second commercial (above) recently aired on local television, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, seen watching a horse race with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel at the Hazel Park Raceway, claims that the proposed expansion of express SMART bus service will “revolutionize mass transit as we know it in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County.”

The ad concludes with the tagline “SMART: Ride the Excitement.”

Under this proposal, spelled out in more detail on the SMART website, SMART, the Detroit metro area’s suburban bus system, will take over and expand the Regional Transit Authority’s “Reflex” express bus service along Woodward and Gratiot, while adding a new Michigan Avenue line to Detroit Metro Airport. Operated by SMART and DDOT, that Reflex service was inaugurated by the Regional Transit Authority last year in an attempt to make the case for its four-county regional transit proposal.

That proposal would have expanded SMART and DDOT service and created bus rapid transit lines on Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan. But it lost by a hair at the ballot box after Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel refused to endorse it, and almost blocked it from making it to the ballot.

In the short term, the SMART proposal is good news for many riders along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan, who’ll benefit from express service every 15 or 20 minutes during rush hour.

Unfortunately, Patterson and Hackel’s framing of the proposal indicates they may use it as an excuse to shut the door on talk of another RTA transit proposal in 2018. Continue reading “Will SMART Plan “Revolutionize” Transit, or Marginalize the RTA?”

18 by ’18: Sustaining Our Fight for Transit


When a handful of dedicated bus riders and veteran transit activists came together to found the Motor City Freedom Riders in the summer of 2014, we didn’t have any paid staff members, T-shirts, or big grants from foundations. Actually, we didn’t have any money…other than bus fare, of course.

What we did have was a burning commitment to work for expanded public transit—“transportation freedom”—in metro Detroit, and a knowledge that the old strategies weren’t working.

We couldn’t count on politicians to move transit forward. We, the bus riders, and our allies around the region, had to lead the work for transit through grassroots organizing and advocacy. To win freedom of movement, we had to build a movement ourselves.

We’ve come a long way over the past 3 years. We successfully petitioned for the City of Detroit to make DDOT accountable for improving reliability by making bus performance information public. We took on the Oakland and Macomb County administrations to get a regional transit proposal on the ballot, and did our darnedest to get voters to the polls to support it. Since the very narrow defeat of the proposal last November, we’ve been building our strength to push the County Executives and Detroit Mayor to put a revised transit plan back on the ballot next year.

This is a critical time. If we don’t get transit back on the ballot in 2018, we’ll need to wait till 2020 to have another serious shot at expanding public transit in metro Detroit. We have to dramatically expand our work over the coming year to make sure that transit makes it onto the ballot, and wins.

And to do that, we need your help. Continue reading “18 by ’18: Sustaining Our Fight for Transit”

Could It Be Time for a Wayne-Washtenaw Transit Strategy?



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Almost as soon as the regional transit election results rolled in last year, some people started asking whether it might be time for a south-of-8 Mile transit strategy in metro Detroit.

Both Wayne County and Washtenaw County had racked up majority support for the Regional Transit Authority tax proposal: 53% and 56%, respectively. North of 8 Mile, it was a different story. In Oakland County, a razor-thin majority of 50.1% opposed the transit plan, while in Macomb, where many white suburban voters were pumped up on Trump, the final tally was 60% opposed. (See our full analysis here.)

At first, we were skeptical of a Wayne-Washtenaw proposal. After all, the full RTA proposal clearly could have won with a stronger campaign, one that encompassed grassroots organizing and lawn signs printed more than two weeks before the vote. (When it comes to regional transit, it’s a winner-takes-all vote, so with just 20,000 more “yes” votes around the region, less than 1% of the total, we’d already be rolling towards a regional transit system.)

Trouble is, for us to get a public vote on regional transit, the region’s political leaders have to put it on the ballot. Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel barely let transit onto the ballot last year, and they’ve given no indication that they’ll support putting it on the ballot at the next opportunity: November 2018.

Brooks has led a storied career fighting desegregation busing, transit, and pretty much anything else that might benefit Detroit – or poor people in Oakland County, for that matter. And Hackel has big political ambitions; he’s mulling a run for Governor of Michigan, on a self-described platform of “fiscal conservatism,” and after last year’s Trump-inflected vote, it’s hard to see how a switch to supporting transit would endear him to his suburban base. Continue reading “Could It Be Time for a Wayne-Washtenaw Transit Strategy?”

Why Rally for Real Regional Transit? A Guide for the Perplexed

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The media can sometimes alter perceptions of transit reality.

Over the past few days, we’ve received a number of questions from well-meaning people asking why we’re holding demonstrations today to coincide with the QLINE streetcar opening. Here’s an effort to answer some of those questions. Thanks to Moses Maimonides for helping to suggest the title.

Why are you out here demonstrating? This is an exciting day for transit, isn’t it?

We’re demonstrating because we’re tired of waiting for real regional transit. For too long, the political and corporate leadership of metro Detroit has been kicking the can down the road, and that has to change. We’re calling on Mayor Duggan and other regional leaders, including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and Washtenaw County leaders, to support putting a revised regional transit ballot measure before the public in November 2018, so we can start building the truly regional transit system we need.

But isn’t the QLINE a step in the right direction?

Some people who’ve never taken the bus before will take the QLINE, and that could be a good thing, especially if those people start advocating for expanded public transit across the region.

The fact is, though, that the QLINE doesn’t really improve on existing transit service. At least three different DDOT and SMART bus routes already provide service along the same corridor, at the same level of frequency, at an equal or greater rate of speed…or did, until they were shunted off the lower part of Woodward to accommodate QLINE construction. Unlike the QLINE, those bus lines also provide service north of Grand Boulevard.

The QLINE stations are pretty nice, though, and our bus stops should look more like them. Most bus stops in the region don’t even have a shelter, let alone a heated one, and many in the suburbs don’t even have a sidewalk. Continue reading “Why Rally for Real Regional Transit? A Guide for the Perplexed”

It’s Time to Rally for Real Regional Transit

A picture is worth a thousand words.

UPDATE: Note that the Detroit rally will now be happening at Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit.

The champagne will be flowing on Friday, May 12, when the 3-mile, $140 million QLINE streetcar opens to a planned celebration by “local officials and dignitaries.”

But what about real regional transit that serves the needs of riders and doesn’t just duplicate existing service? Or that helps to patch the gaps left by the massive cuts to our bus systems over the past decade?

No one in the Detroit region’s political elite seems to know – or care. After the narrow 51%-49% defeat of the Regional Transit Authority ballot proposal in the Trumpocalytic election of November 2016, transit allies are staying quiet, while the enemies of transit are, to paraphrase Yeats, “full of passionate intensity.”

Witness, for example, Oakland and Macomb County’s efficient ousting of RTA CEO Michael Ford, who was unceremoniously relieved of his position last month. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel blamed Ford for the defeat of the RTA proposal, conveniently omitting mention that Hackel, under the malign influence of Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, had refused to support or campaign for the measure himself.

We can’t let this political inertia continue. Not when every day, thousands of people, and our entire region, are held back by the lack of effective transportation. It’s time to rally for real regional transit and hold our politicians accountable.

We’re hosting rallies at three locations on Friday, May 12, to coincide with the opening of the QLINE streetcar. The biggest will be in Detroit, 8-10 am, at Grand Circus Park downtown. (Join and share the Facebook event at this link.) We can’t let the region’s political elite celebrate their streetcar without reminding them (and the media) of the continuing transit crisis in our region, a crisis they have a moral responsibility to address by putting a transit plan back on the ballot in 2018.

We’re also holding sister rallies in downtown Ann Arbor that morning (link) and in downtown Ferndale that evening (link) to demonstrate that there’s demand in the suburbs as well as the city, and that we demand action not only from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Wayne County Executive Mark Hackel, but from the suburban leadership: Patterson, Hackel, and Washtenaw County leaders.

These rallies will kick off a call-in and petition campaign targeting these regional leaders. Transit is a huge public need – and if they refuse to lead on the issue, the people will. Spread the word. We’ll see you on the buses and in the streets.

Mapping the RTA Vote

Support for RTA ballot measure by precinct. Map by Steven Wiltse.

The narrow defeat of the ballot measure for regional transit last month was a serious setback in our ongoing struggle for transportation freedom.

However, the results of the vote can help us map our path forward after this defeat.

The proposal lost by a margin of just one percent: 18,000 votes out of 1.8 million cast in the four-county region. It was defeated, 60-40, in Macomb County; essentially tied in Oakland; and won a majority in both Wayne and Washtenaw County.

Some articles have blamed Macomb County for the defeat, even characterizing the vote as “Macomb versus everybody,” but that’s more than a little misleading, as the map above, prepared by Steven Wiltse using public election data, indicates. (Many thanks are due to Steven for putting this together. Find a high-quality version of the map at this link.)

The proposal got the strongest support (green, in the map above) in Detroit; Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and environs; and southern Oakland County, from Ferndale to Southfield and north to Birmingham. The vote was close to even in most other suburban areas – the yellow areas forming a ring around Detroit and south Oakland.

However, the plan drew strong opposition in the outer, less-developed rural and exurban areas of the metropolitan area. That’s not terribly surprising: for the most part, these places would not be served by fixed-route bus service under the RTA’s regional plan.

Metro Detroit is, of course, a highly segregated place, and race clearly played a role in voting patterns as well. Voters in majority-African American cities, including both Detroit and black suburban enclaves like Southfield, Pontiac, and Inkster, supported the plan at far higher rates than white areas did. Some white voters, like the New Baltimore Trump volunteer who told the New York Times he opposed the proposal because it would “speed up the transport of drugs from the inner city,” were likely motivated by racial fears regarding transit.

The RTA results, however, make clear that metro Detroit’s longstanding racial differential doesn’t capture the full story of the vote – and gives hope that a stronger, people-powered campaign for transit can prevail in future. Continue reading “Mapping the RTA Vote”

“Massive Transit Tax” Would Cost Average Metro Detroit Homeowner Three Coneys Per Month

Bus rapid transit on Michigan Avenue (left) and one of Lafayette’s finest (right).

How much would it cost? That’s one of the most common questions about the regional transit proposal on tomorrow’s ballot.

The folks opposing the regional transit plan for metro Detroit call it a “massive transit tax” – as you might infer from the name of their website, NoMassiveTransitTax.org. (The group apparently consists of a few deep-pocketed donors and former Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, who headed the 2006 initiative to repeal affirmative action in Michigan.)

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that we have a different perspective.

The 1.2-mill property tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $120 per year, or $10/month. The average home in metro Detroit is worth less than $200,000, though, so the average homeowner would pay about $95 per year, or less than $8 per month. (In the city of Detroit, of course, the average home is worth rather less than the regional average, meaning most Detroiters would pay an even smaller amount.)

Today, as the vote approaches, we decided to do our own investigating. We stopped by the hallowed corner of Michigan and Lafayette to calculate how much the transit proposal would cost in terms of one of the Detroit region’s most-purchased consumer goods. Continue reading ““Massive Transit Tax” Would Cost Average Metro Detroit Homeowner Three Coneys Per Month”

RTA Win Would Mean Big Boost for DDOT

DDOT service on Grand River would get a major boost under the RTA proposal.

As Election Day rolls around, a number of bus riders have been asking us what the RTA ballot proposal would mean for DDOT bus service in Detroit.

In brief: a lot. If the “Yes” votes prevail on November 8, DDOT service would be increased by more than 25%. In addition to brand-new routes connecting Detroit and the suburbs, there would be more buses on existing DDOT routes, making for shorter waits for riders. The number of buses on the road would increase dramatically, to a peak of 258. See the chart below for details.


And moreover, that’s all assuming that no surplus DDOT service on bus rapid transit corridors – that is, Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan – would be reallocated to less serviced routes. Since the RTA would be providing frequent rapid transit service on those corridors, it could be possible for DDOT to reduce the number of buses on those routes, and instead provide more service on crosstown routes. (Obviously, that’d have to be done carefully; there’d still need for continued DDOT service in order to serve the stops in between bus rapid transit stations.)

The bottom line: the RTA ballot proposal would give long-suffering DDOT a much-needed boost. Continue reading “RTA Win Would Mean Big Boost for DDOT”

Take the Pledge to Vote on Regional Transit!

It’s just two months till the historic vote on regional transit – yet too many people across the metro region still don’t know what it’s about.

At our meeting last night, we unveiled a new tool to change that: a voter pledge form to spread the word, secure voter commitments, and recruit new volunteers.

Can you help us get the word out by collecting pledges from voters? If you didn’t make it out last night, you can download the pledge form at this link. Take a stack on the bus, or to work or school, along with a clipboard and a pen. Ask people if they can commit to vote. After they fill out the form, tear off the bottom (folding first helps!) and give it to them to keep. After collecting pledges, scan or take photos of the forms and e-mail them to us at motorcityfreedomriders@gmail.com so we can follow up with the signers.

Someone also asked us if we had an online version of the pledge form. Well, now we do! You can access it at this link, or find it embedded below. Thanks for all you do!