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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that at an emergency response demonstration, SMART General Manager John Hertel said one purpose of the event was to demonstrate why citizens should vote on the transit service’s millage on Tuesday. An earlier version of this story inaccurately paraphrased his remarks.

Harrison Township -- Looking ahead to a millage replacement on the ballot in next week's election, SMART demonstrated its emergency services during a mock bus race Wednesday at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

The derby hosted by the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation pitted two teams against each other, one captained by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and the other by Detroit Red Wings color analyst Mickey Redmond.

"This is a little bit for fun," said SMART General Manager John Hertel, adding that the serious purpose of the race was to demonstrate why citizens should vote on the millage on Tuesday.

Voters in Macomb County and participating communities in Oakland and Wayne counties will decide whether to renew a 1-mill tax to fund SMART through 2021. The measure also would slightly increase the millage in Macomb and Oakland counties to 1 mill, which Wayne County residents already pay.

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The two teams at Wednesday's derby, comprised of EMS and transit employees, were tasked with loading emergency supplies onto their bus, which would then be driven through a race track set up in the metropark's parking lot, then return to unload their supplies. The team captains had to run and press a button to complete the race. Redmond's team narrowly edged Hackel's.

Hackel joked about going up against the former Red Wings hockey player.

"I saw (Redmond's) elbow go up, so I backed off," he said.

Redmond added, with a smile, that it was close to being a "collision course."

Robert Cramer, SMART's deputy general manager, says the race was a "lighthearted, but serious" way to show people how the transit system can provide emergency services, such as transporting supplies or victims of a disaster.

"There's a lot of things people know about SMART," he said. "But people don’t know a lot of other ways we help out in the community. There's a need for emergency preparedness SMART helps with."

Cramer says buses can be used as both warming and cooling centers for people in emergencies. They also can transport residents from nursing homes or patients from hospitals in emergency evacuations, for example.

Jeff White, chief of Richmond Lenox EMS, says SMART's emergency preparation services are important because more lives are saved by preventing emergencies, as opposed to responding to them.

"I hope the real winners in all this are taxpayers and SMART," he said.

White cited an accident on Interstate 94 in which some passengers on a tour bus sustained minor injuries. Ambulances can only able to transport two people at once, he says, so SMART buses came in to help transport people to the nearest hospital.

"Community groups have asked me to speak," he said. "Once I’ve talked about SMART’s community service, they are all in favor of it."

Hackel said he is concerned people will confuse the SMART proposal with the $5.4 billion Regional Transit Authority plan to fund a commuter rail line and rapid transit bus lines. Last month, the plan failed to get approval for the November ballot.

"This is basically no more than a renewal of a service we've had for decades," he said. "People need that service for hospital visits, getting to work."

 

Macomb County citizens said 'yes' to SMART in the past, Hackel says, and he believes people will vote in favor for the millage if they understand how crucial the transit system really is for getting people to doctor's appointments or work, as well as emergency preparedness.

Redmond says he has gone through an "education process" of understanding what SMART can do for the community, as well as helping people understand the RTA and SMART are two different organizations.

"I see how important it is to have transportation this affordable and dependable," he said. "I can't imagine why anyone would not support this."

nryan@detroitnews.com

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