SMART’s Hertel Hurt by Rider Requests for Restored Service

Giving testimony at the SMART Board of Directors meeting, August 28, 2014.
Giving testimony at the SMART Board of Directors meeting, August 28, 2014.

After many hours of work getting out the vote to keep SMART buses running, we’d hoped that our requests for SMART to consider bus service improvements would be considered in good faith, even if not accepted outright. Unfortunately, we were disappointed.

Yesterday, we went to the SMART Board of Directors meeting to celebrate the metro region’s overwhelming vote of confidence for transit in the August 5 election. We also asked SMART to consider using some portion of the additional $28 million they’ll be getting each year to bring back some level of bus service between Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Outside of morning and evening commute periods, this service was eliminated in December 2011, adding countless hours of waiting for those riders who didn’t give up on getting around by bus entirely.

In public comments, we stressed that the lack of transit between city and suburbs was a hardship on either side of Eight Mile.  “When I would be spending money in the rest of the region,” said Detroit bus rider Syri Simpson, “I’m not able to get out there.” Oakland County resident Tom Zerafa said he’d given up attending Tigers night games since SMART cut evening service into Detroit. “I come down to Comerica Park,” he said, “and I can’t get home.”

However, SMART General Manager John Hertel did not think the possibility of restoring service should be discussed.

SMART’s John Hertel.

After public comment, Hertel thanked MOSES and Transportation Riders United (TRU) for help getting out the vote, but expressed disappointment that a recent TRU newsletter had not thanked “the people of SMART” among the groups responsible for the election victory. Thanking the SMART board for their “courage” in allowing a millage increase, he said he was glad the board didn’t engage in posturing. “Posturing is a waste of time, and it takes you in wrong directions,” he said.

“You in the audience,” Hertel said, “ought to be pointing out [the need for transit] out to others,” including politicians and the media. He said SMART needed to replace its aging bus fleet, and renegotiate contracts with its workers, before it could consider any service changes. “If we finally buy the buses, and we get through the contract negotiations, and there’s money left over, the board and I would be thrilled to get new service out there,” he promised. Anyone who told riders that restored service would be possible with the millage increase, said Hertel, was either “not informed” or “purposely attempting to mislead you.”

Hertel is right that much of SMART’s new revenue is needed for new buses, and we agree that SMART’s hardworking drivers and other staff deserve better compensation after years of cuts. At the same time, it seems only reasonable to us that SMART’s current planning should consider what revenue can be used for bringing back at least some of the bus service we’ve lost. Even adding one bus every half hour on routes like Gratiot, Woodward, and Michigan would be a step up from the current situation. We don’t believe it’s “posturing” to talk about that possibility.

We get out the vote for SMART in the Clawson July 4 parade.
We helped get out the vote for SMART in the Clawson July 4 parade.

Keith Thomas summarized our thoughts as we left the meeting. “We shouldn’t have to beg for buses,” he said. But if we do need to speak up, we shouldn’t shy away from it. Those buses are public transportation, and the public deserves a say in where we go. We’ll be working to figure out how we might bring SMART’s leaders around to that understanding. For now, you can share your concerns with SMART at or call the agency at (313) 223-2100. Edited: SMART has requested that we use the SMART customer feedback form at this link or call 866.962.5515 to speak with a customer service representative so that our comments can be more easily tabulated.


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2 Replies to “SMART’s Hertel Hurt by Rider Requests for Restored Service”

  1. I do not think Mr Hertel could be miffed about a lack of recognition for SMART’s contribution to its own victory. Most speakers thanked and congratulated SMART for its accomplishment in getting landslide approval for millage needed to continue serving its region. In doing so, SMART served its own interest, ongoing employment for SMART employees, including the SMART director. According to SMART, its continued existence was dependent on this millage increase.

    Certainly MOSES and TRU served the interest of bus riders in getting out the vote. Having worked hard to this end, riders bought to the attention of the board,their feelings on how SMART could best serve its customers. Speakers from the across the region spoke their concerns regarding the impact on their leisure, their work life and their safety, of the cuts. These are issues SMART, should be addressing on behalf of those it serves.

    So, certainly, should the issues of aging equipment and of the equitable treatment of SMART employees. Throwing upcoming contract negotiations out as a stumbling block to restoration of service reads like an attempt to pit SMART riders against the drivers we depend on.

    SMART employees, interfacing with the public, were one of the best incentives for continuation of SMART service. Their contribution was acknowledge by speakers. I guess their contribution was the carrot with the fear of dismantling SMART without the increase as the stick. So thanks, Mr. Hertel

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