Why Restore Regional SMART Service?

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As the next SMART board meeting approaches (Thurs., Sept. 25, Buhl Building – fifth floor, 535 Griswold, Detroit), we think it’s important to lay out exactly why we’re so passionate about restoring the city-suburb service we lost in 2011. Most people in the metro region don’t know about the 2011 SMART cuts, and what a blow they were to folks trying to get around via transit. We need to change this. Below, you’ll find our effort at a summary of the situation. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday!

2011 SMART cuts eliminated all-day regional city-suburb transit service

SMART, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, is “Southeast Michigan’s only regional public transportation provider.” Since the 1970s, SMART and its predecessor, SEMTA, have been providing transit between Detroit and destinations around the metro region.

As the economy slowed, more people started using SMART than ever before – ridership hit record levels in 2008. In 2011, however, declining revenues from local property taxes led SMART to cut 22% of total bus service, included all city-suburb bus service into Detroit outside the hours of 6-9 am and 3-6 pm on weekdays.

Anyone seeking to take a bus between Detroit and the suburbs outside those hours must now transfer between DDOT and SMART buses at the Detroit city limit, a process which often requires long waits in hot, cold or unsafe conditions. It is now possible to take a bus between downtown Detroit and Windsor most hours of the day – but not between Detroit and adjoining cities in Michigan.

SMART must work to restore regional transit service

The money exists. On August 5, 2014, voters in the metro region overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to renew and increase the SMART property tax millage, raising an additional $28 million annually for SMART, or $141 million over the next 5 years. This funding is needed for many purposes, including replacement of aging buses, but even a small portion could support restoration of some level of regional transit service on major routes such as Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan.

The need exists, in the suburbs and the city. Most people in the metro area need to cross multiple city boundaries to get to work, shopping, and education. Public transit should serve that need. Increasing numbers of suburban residents work in Detroit, and increasing numbers of Detroiters commute to the suburbs, too.

SMART member communities need bus service. The SMART member community of Highland Park pays taxes into SMART like its peers, but receives SMART service only six hours per day. The SMART member city of Hamtramck also pays taxes into SMART, but receive no fixed-route service. Both of these cities have high rates of transit-dependent residents: in Highland Park, 42% of all households have no vehicle available. In effect, this situation amounts to “taxation without transportation.”

SMART stands to benefit. Since the 2011 cuts, SMART ridership has declined from its 2008 peak of 44,000 riders. More service into Detroit will generate higher ridership and allow more people to take SMART who currently cannot due to the limited hours of service in Detroit.

Regional transit must be a priority. In 2012, the Michigan Legislature created the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority to coordinate transit across the metro region. This legislation called for implementation of rapid transit service on the Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan Avenue corridors. Ironically, these very routes had seen regional transit service between Detroit and the suburbs curtailed the previous year. Restoring transit service across the city limit on these routes is an essential first step for improving transit across the region.

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