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Detroit — Metro Detroit’s bus system will link the city’s downtown and Detroit Metropolitan Airport with a new express service next week.

Beginning Monday, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation will operate a high-frequency FAST service, providing a direct connection to the airport as well as a limited-stop bus service linking the suburbs to downtown Detroit. FAST stands for “Frequent Affordable Safe Transit.”

The fare is the same as SMART’s regular service: $2 one-way while transfers are 25 cents.

“SMART is excited to introduce to the region its first major service upgrade in over 20 years,” said John Hertel, SMART’s general manager, in a statement. “The new FAST service will make the commute from the suburbs to downtown Detroit quicker and more convenient for riders.”

FAST’s Michigan Avenue route provides a direct connection from downtown Detroit to both terminals at Metro Airport. The Woodward Avenue route serves Pontiac and Troy, as well as four hospitals, the Detroit Zoo, Midtown and downtown. The Gratiot Avenue route connects people to 23 Mile, Mount Clemens, Macomb Mall, Detroit’s Midtown, Eastern Market and downtown.

Hertel added that by creating a limited-stop route, SMART will be able to provide better commuting options to help connect people to work, school, medical facilities, shopping and the growing entertainment district that downtown Detroit has to offer.

Mass transit has been thought to be a weakness for Detroit in its bid to convince Amazon to build its second headquarters here. A proposal submitted to the online retail giant in October emphasizes the city could one day have a robust transit network.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said Thursday the express service is a step in the right direction for Metro Detroit.

“Rapid connectivity, regardless of through bus or rail, is an important element of comprehensive regional transit strategy,” Baruah said. “Our view at the chamber, putting the Amazon bid aside, is that a way for an economy to be successful is to provide fast and efficient connectivity between people and job opportunities and people and entertainment.”

Mass transit is one portion of its Amazon bid the city is trying to improve.

“Amazon is obviously an important rallying cry, and potential opportunity, but regardless of if we get it or not, these are the things we need to be doing,” he said.

Regarding the Amazon bid, SMART spokeswoman Beth Gibbons said the FAST service was in the planning stages well before the Amazon bid.

“A pure coincidence,” she said. “SMART was pleased to be able to contribute significant transit improvements for the Amazon HQ2 bid.”

Gibbons the included FAST destinations now can be reached quicker with the service.

“Metro Detroiter’s will be able to ride FAST Gratiot, FAST Woodward and FAST Michigan to major destinations within each corridor with high frequencies and limited-stops getting where you need to go quicker,” she said.

But what about travelers to the airport who are carrying luggage?

“The rule for people traveling to the airport is, if you can carry it on the airplane, you can bring it on FAST,” Gibbons said. “Riders must be able to manage their packages, bags and luggage in one trip and kept on your lap or between your feet to avoid blocking the aisles.”

FAST buses will be distinguished from SMART’s current fleet of buses because they will be wrapped in red, blue and green colors with the FAST logo prominently displayed on the sides of the buses. SMART also will offer free WiFi onboard FAST buses. Later in 2018, SMART plans to add other improvements along the corridors with new shelters and other amenities.

While the limited-stop service is not new to SMART, higher-frequency service combined with limited stops should provide quicker commutes, SMART says.

Riders are only able to board and deboard at the official FAST stations designated with a new FAST sign. Local routes can be used to transfer riders to a FAST station or in-between bus stops.

SMART and FAST routes and schedules can be found at www.smartbus.org.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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