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Detroit bus to expand with direct, express routes

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Detroit Department of Transportation is preparing to unveil expanded bus service with new express and direct routes throughout the city to get riders from growing, populated neighborhoods to work.

The changes, promoted by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and tweaked by bus officials after public hearing this summer, will take place in two phases starting as early as next month. The estimated cost for the city agency is $10 million from the general fund, based on hours of service, officials said.

The DDOT improvements are part of a number of changes at the agency, including 24-hour service to certain routes and Saturday service to the Eastern Market near downtown Detroit from six neighborhoods.

DDOT, maligned for years for late service and poorly maintained buses, is trying to improve on-time buses and bring in new vehicles. And the improvements come at a transitional point in transportation in Metro Detroit, with the M-1 rail line slated to open next year and the Regional Transit Authority putting a millage on the ballot this year to fund transit improvements.

The three express routes, essentially buses that will eventually end up on an expressway, and two direct routes, which will be used more during peak hours in the morning and afternoon, are among the biggest changes. Two of these express routes are coming in September and one more will be introduced in January, along with two direct ones.

“Most of the reasons for these express routes, it will cut travel time for folks needing to get either to downtown or the New Center area, where there are jobs, by half,” said DDOT director Dan Dirks. “That’s a good thing. We have enough buses in our fleet to operate this.”

Dirks said “changing DDOT and becoming something more for citizens” will dovetail with plans the mayor and others have for growing Detroit’s population. The concepts for the new routes have been discussed for well over a year.

In September, DDOT will offer these new routes: the Ryan Express and Joy Express. The Ryan will connect residential neighborhoods to downtown via East Outer Drive and Interstate 75; The Joy route will connect neighborhoods to downtown by Evergreen and Joy Road and Interstate 96. These will run during peak hours in the morning and afternoon.

The express routes, Dirks said, “are those that will attract folks that wouldn’t look at DDOT otherwise but might take a second look. And we’ve worked real hard at stabilizing our service and as we put this express and direct routes out, we think it’s going to help people come back to the city.”

Two of the direct routes slated to start in January — a southwest Detroit service and another from the West Village area — are unique because they won’t stop downtown but rather in Midtown locations such as the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State University. There will be anywhere from six to eight trips in peak hours.

“As downtown is getting more congested, a lot of our customers are losing time as their bus makes its final approach to downtown,” said Neil Greenburg, DDOT’s service development and scheduling manager, who helped to develop the new routes. “They nearly miss a transfer or they get caught up in whatever events are happening downtown, so these new direct routes will not only eliminate a transfer but also it will remove them from all the congestion and unpredictability of traveling through downtown.”

Twenty-four hour service will be offered on three routes in September and three more routes in January. The fall routes include the Crosstown from the Pierson Loop to Warren and Telegraph; the Dexter on Jefferson between Griswold and Shelby; and Seven Mile, with trips every 60 minutes.

In January, the new 24-hour services will be the Jefferson, Michigan and Van Dyke/Lafayette routes.

“It’s part of being a good transit. We really do have to serve a diversity of riders every day of the week,” Greenburg said. “There are transit systems that maybe focused disproportionately on commuter stuff to the exclusion of other needs. We’re trying to hit everything with this.”

Duggan, who was out of town on vacation, declined to comment on the changes until he’s had more time to review them. But the mayor has been a big proponent of improving DDOT and its on-time delivery service and reliability. His staff just received the DDOT changes this week and expects to vet them in the coming days. The mayor, officials said, is expected to green-light the plan.

Although he hasn’t seen the changes, Winston Valentine, a longtime DDOT bus commuter, welcomes the improvements, which he said are long overdue.

“Right now it’s tough because there are times when you are waiting at the bus stop for an hour,” said Valentine, 73, who lives on the near east side. “If the services would serve my area, that will be great.”

One of the routes he would appreciate would be the Eastern Market service because “I live close to the Eastern Market but I don’t want to walk down there.”

“I think they would appreciate it 100 percent,” Valentine said of commuters who depend on DDOT. “If they can rely on it, that would be great.”