SMART bus officials got a glowing financial audit by accountants yesterday. And in August, the suburban bus service got millions more out of voters when they approved a millage hike. But three years ago, SMART cut a quarter of its service. It ended service between Detroit and the suburbs with the exceptions of 6-9 in the morning and 3-6 in the afternoon. That’s still hard on riders. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
Transit advocates called for protest at the board of directors meeting of SMART downtown. Only a couple showed up. One was Marguerite Maddox. She is physically and hearing impaired.
The room gets quiet when Maddox speaks.
“I can not believe that once we passed the millage… please help the people who ride the buses everyday.”
Maddox expected the millage to bring new money for more bus service. She pleaded with SMART’s directors to help the 50,000 bus riders of that service. DDOT, the Detroit bus service, has another 100,000 riders.
Detroiters speaking during public comment periods describe what other cities have that Detroit hasn’t had in 60 years. Donna Walker is a lifelong resident.
“I remember when they built I-75. Hey. I was 5 years old playing on I-94 as they built it. We should have put in light rail. We should still be putting in light rail and not passing a gas tax for paving roads. When I was a kid you were lucky to have one car. Now there are two cars or three in every driveway. What would life be like without everyone driving all by themselves in their cars?”
The regional transit authority was designed to have authority over SMART and DDOT. Most riders hope that SMART and DDOT will get forced into coordinating schedules. Joe Krause grew up in the suburbs and lives downtown.
“Another opportunity that I believe is often missed is a combination of SMART and DDOT stops. Currently at the border of Grosse Pointe Park you can either wait at Weyburn and Jefferson for the mid-day transfer for the bus or you can wait for the DDOT bus farther to the West. So you must sprint from one to the other. And this is an issue that can be solved with a screwdriver.”
He means the two agencies could post signs showing how you can change buses, though a mere screwdriver won’t be enough to ensure seamless riding from one kind of bus to another.
An eye disease made Krause park his car and embrace public transit.
“I urge further cooperation with the RTA and merger of the two systems. The best way to understand issues like this is for everybody to ride the bus for their daily business. I encourage you to not ride your car for a month.”
SMART’s annual budget is $111 million. Officials told voters that they would buy new buses to replace the existing buses, most of which have a half million miles on them. SMART’s general manager is John Hertel. He didn’t address rider concerns in his report to the board. However, VP of Finance John Foster did speak about the millage that is projected to bring in an extra $28 million a year.
“Two areas that we’re watching. One is the repair of buses. They’re still aging. Jim’s doing a good job of keeping them running. Until we get some new buses in here that’s going to be one of the areas we really have to keep an eye on. The other area is marketing and advertising. We spent quite a bit of money on the millage education program.”
SMART spent $300,000 on television spots in June and July. Spokeswoman Beth Gibbons sympathizes with riders. She her rides the bus from Farmington Hills.
“SMART would look to see what money’s would be available for potential restoration of service or additional service. But until that time we are unable to do that.”
And until that time, Marguerite Maddox is asking SMART bus officials to …..think about people who ride public transit every day ……to work, to school and for pleasure.