Last Tuesday, January 23rd, Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” met at the Cobo Center to discuss a variety of economic issues facing the region including an improved regional public transit system. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans insisted that a comprehensive and modern transit network is necessary to compete with other American cities for young talent and business opportunities. Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, on the other hand, are more concerned with fixing roads in their counties than funding metro area transport. A proposal two years ago including “plans to create bus rapid transit, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, an airport shuttle service, a regional fare card system and other service changes” narrowly failed as Oakland county was split on the millage and Macomb county rejected it.
A new millage proposal would have to be worked out in the next couple of months if it’s to appear on the November ballot but let’s look at a few realistic upgrades that we could see in the near future.
Increase in Bus Rapid Transit
Detroit needs more limited-stop, far-reaching bus lines like SMART’s FAST lines down Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan. This new service, replacing the similar RefleX system, connects Downtown Detroit with areas as far as Chesterfield, Pontiac, and DTW airport. While light rail is sexy, busses are cheaper and more versatile. Some might bring up an alleged “bus stigma” but take a bus in Chicago, New York City, or Washington, D.C., and you’ll see that busses done well can be a lot cleaner and more efficient than most light rail systems. Ideally, designated bus lanes would be added to current and future routes but additional lines down Jefferson, Fort Street, and Grand River would be a good place to start.
Universal Fare System
A network-wide fare system is needed to combine passes for DDOT, SMART, the QLine, and the People Mover. Transfers are available between them but it’s still too clunky. Residents who need to utilize two or three different transit systems to get to and from work everyday shouldn’t have to keep track of multiple fare cards and tourists new to the city shouldn’t need to click through fifteen different web pages to get an idea of how to pay for their journey. Monthly, weekly, and 3-day passes covering all four systems are also necessary to modernize and optimize transport in Metro Detroit.
An app that lets riders buy passes, refill passes, and track bus and train arrival times would appeal to the tech-savvy and millennial workforce that the city is trying to attract and retain. Fare accounts should be available at all times in all places. Nothing is worse than running out of change for fare or searching for a CVS to buy fare cards when time is of the essence. The QLine is ahead of the game in this regard but Detroit’s transport really needs to come into the 2010s in terms of efficiency and technology.
By Jared Hoffman
Research Associate, JMJ Phillip Group