M-1 RAIL NEWS

Woodward Ave. may get Express Bus Service?

Posted: 01/22/16

Express bus service proposed for Woodward, Gratiot

Writer: Eric D. Lawrence

Expanded bus service on Woodward and Gratiot would function as an express service between Detroit and its northern suburbs.

The proposal, unveiled Thursday as a draft at a meeting of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan, would include 13 stops — rather than an estimated 100 in some cases — on each corridor and allow riders to travel between Detroit’s Bricktown neighborhood, near a People Mover station, and the Somerset Collection in Troy, and between Bricktown and the North River Park and Ride lot in the Mt. Clemens area.

Leaders of  the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) hailed the joint effort as groundbreaking for regional public transportation. It could launch by July 1 and run as a three-year pilot project, cutting bus commute times dramatically and eliminating transfers on the routes.

“This is new and historic stuff,” SMART General Manager John Hertel told the RTA board, describing the service, which would be called RefleX, as a joint venture when asked who would own the new service. SMART would operate the Gratiot line, and DDOT would operate the Woodward line.

Noting that the decision on the service is “in the RTA’s court now,” DDOT Director Dan Dirks said, “There’s nothing quite like this” in terms of regional transit in the Detroit area.

The effort is the result of the RTA’s decision in the fall to shift $2.8 million per year for expanded service on the two corridors. “We don’t have any doubt there’s demand,” Hertel said.

The draft plan is for a “bare-bones” service, which officials said could be improved by adding Midtown connections in Detroit to the Gratiot route and stops in downtown Royal Oak and Birmingham to the Woodward route. Additional money could also boost the frequency of buses, from every 65 minutes on Gratiot and every 70-75 minutes on Woodward to 45-55 minute intervals.

RTA board members sounded generally receptive in their comments and questions during the presentation, but Chuck Moss, a board member representing Oakland County, said buses would need to travel more than once an hour for the service to be successful.

“I’ve got to believe you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Moss said of the longer intervals.

Service would run every day and would not affect current local routes, officials said. Information on fares was not available.

Officials said they would not need to purchase additional buses, and that some of the upgraded stops that SMART has already installed along Gratiot could be used for the new service. The bus stops, called stations, would feature a “premium shelter” and posted route information.

Previous criticism of the effort has come from DDOT’s drivers.

Fred Westbrook Jr., president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents DDOT’s bus driver, previously said any expansion in service within the city should be handled by DDOT rather than SMART. But Hertel  said Thursday that the service would not endanger jobs but wouldenhance the possibility that new jobs could be created.

Transit advocate Ruth Johnson, assistant director of Transportation Riders United, offered initial praise for the project.

“I’m excited. I feel this is the beginning of the realization of the promise of the RTA,” she said, referencing the organization created by the Legislature in 2012 as an umbrella organization for SMART, DDOT, the People Mover and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. “This is a great foundation.”

While praising the effort to combine resources between the two transit agencies and work cooperatively, Johnson questioned the lack of public participation to this point.

Article re-posted from: The Detroit Free Press

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com or on Twitter @_ericdlawrence

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