Lack of Funding Will Limit Proposed Express Service

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On January 21st, staff from the metro region’s two major bus systems gathered in a downtown office high above the Detroit River in a show of unity. It’s no secret that DDOT and SMART have often acted as competitors, rather than partners, battling for turf and for the region’s woefully small pool of transit funding. Yet as chunks of ice floated down the river below, DDOT and SMART attempted to show the Regional Transit Authority board that there’d been a thaw in their chilly relationship.

DDOT head Dan Dirks and SMART chief John Hertel were on hand, but this was clearly Neil Greenberg’s show. Greenberg, DDOT Director of Service Development and Scheduling, may be best known to many people for dreaming up the Freshwater Railway fantasy transit maps, which laid out a vision for a regional rail system in metro Detroit. He’s also worked at SMART, and his enthusiasm for transit made him a natural for bringing the two agencies together.

The “refleX” proposal Greenberg put forward was, in many ways, a model for how transit in the metro region could work better. (Read the full document here, courtesy of the Oakland Press.) However, the service’s limited stops raise equity concerns, and the limited funding for the service will make it so infrequent as to threaten its success. Continue reading “Lack of Funding Will Limit Proposed Express Service”

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Livonia Residents Speak Up for Buses, Rebuffed by Council

Left: Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey argues for the opt-out. Right: Livonia resident and bus rider Bruce Keezer addresses Council.

Livonia residents turned out to City Council yesterday after they heard the Council would be discussing the issue of public transit. Despite their entreaties, however, a majority of Council voted to postpone discussion of rejoining the SMART bus system, which the city quit ten years ago.

Longtime Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey, 86, led the city out of the SMART bus system in 2005, telling residents the tax money for SMART would be better spent on other services. He opened Monday’s meeting with a PowerPoint presentation on “The SMART Opt-Out: How We Got Here, Why it Works.” You can watch the full council meeting at this link, under “City Council Regular – March 16.”

Kirksey said that previously, only 25% of SMART riders in Livonia were Livonia residents, and that quitting SMART saved Livonia $400,000 per year (about $40 per resident). “No businesses have reported any interest in transit,” he said. “There was some humor at the time, which may be in poor taste for some members of the audience, that if you saw anyone on the bus, get the number and the time and you would get five dollars.” He called the city’s 55%-45% vote to withdraw from SMART in November 2005 a “wide margin.”

A succession of Livonia residents then spoke up in favor of rejoining SMART and participating in regional public transit. No members of the public spoke against SMART, though one resident asked for information on the cost.

“I don’t believe it is working for everyone,” Freedom Rider and lifelong Livonia resident Lynda Franklin told Council. “I’m embarrassed by the disconnect. Successful regions have great public transit systems.” Resident Joan Smykowski noted that the lack of transit shut out low-income workers from jobs in Livonia, and also hampered the city’s ability to attract young professionals. “The high-paying jobs are not coming here,” she said. Continue reading “Livonia Residents Speak Up for Buses, Rebuffed by Council”

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This Suburb Opted In to SMART After 19 Years

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Lathrup Village City Administrator Martha Potere stands by a brand-new bus stop on Southfield Road.

In the wake of the James Robertson story, there’s been considerable hand-wringing about the Detroit suburbs that “opt out” of the SMART bus system. Oftentimes, the “opt-out” communities are portrayed as bastions of prejudice, one more example of the metro region’s seemingly unbridgeable racial and economic divides. Undeniably, the fragmented transit system is a sad testament to our region’s history of segregation. Yet as the story of Lathrup Village shows, the opt-outs often owe as much to political inertia as continuing opposition to transit, and concerted action by citizens can reverse decades of neglect.

When the SMART bus system had its first millage back in 1995, the small Oakland County city of Lathrup Village chose not to take part. First developed as an exclusive bedroom community in the 1920s, Lathrup Village is located entirely inside the City of Southfield, which did choose to participate in SMART. For 19 years, then, says Lathrup Village assistant city manager Martha Potere, “the [420] bus actually went up Southfield Road and didn’t stop in Lathrup.” But times change – and with a little effort, city policy can change with it. Continue reading “This Suburb Opted In to SMART After 19 Years”

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Rochester Hills Candidate Could Set Pro-Transit Precedent

Ravi Yalamanchi announces his candidacy last year.

Asked about James Robertson a couple weeks ago, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said the Detroiter “sets a wonderful example” by walking 21 miles to work. However, he didn’t think his city’s people would be willing to pay for SMART bus service. “That would be an underdog to pass in our community,” he told the Detroit Free Press, saying he only received a couple calls asking for bus service each year.

Ravi Yalamanchi disagrees.

In a strongly worded op-ed in the Oakland Press this week, the former Rochester Hills City Councilperson – who’s now running for Rochester Hills mayor – put forward an unequivocal response to Mayor Barnett.

“Do we need public transportation? Simple answer: yes,” he wrote. “The demand for it is not limited to one or two people calling Rochester Hills city hall, and definitely it is not the case where nobody needs it. The assumption that there is no demand is a fallacy. It is lack of vision and ability to understand the benefits of a good public transportation system.” Continue reading “Rochester Hills Candidate Could Set Pro-Transit Precedent”

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