Metro transit groups focus on successes, obstacles

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

When the Transportation Riders United executive director asked the audience gathered Monday at her nonprofit’s annual meeting how many had worked to speak out on improving southeast Michigan transit over the last year, most of the crowd raised a hand.

The response from supporters working to upgrade transit in Metro Detroit shows there’s demand to explore ways to boost transportation in the region and find more options, Megan Owens said.

“While our transit providers are doing their best, their geography and budget are far too limited to serve the needs that this region really has,” she said while speaking at the MSU Detroit Center. “The problem still exists and so while yes, 2016 was still a great year, we still have some huge obstacles to overcome.”

The need to enhance mass transit, and how area transportation officials have worked to overhaul services, was the focus during the “State of the Detroit Region’s Transit,” the annual meeting for the nonprofit.

Dozens of people packed the meeting for updates from TRU, Regional Transit Authority, the Detroit Department of Transportation, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation and the QLine.

The event came less than three months after voters rejected the transit authority’s $4.6 billion millage, which would have funded three bus rapid transit routes, a rail line from Ann Arbor to Detroit, a unified fare card system and shuttle service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Although the measure failed, the nearly 895,000 Metro Detroit residents who supported the millage indicates a shift in attitudes, Owens said. “We saw unprecedented levels of support for public transit in the last year that we have not seen in decades.”

Transportation leaders also reviewed recent developments and future plans.

DDOT director Dan Dirks highlighted its major bus service expansion. The second phase started Monday with more 24-hour and express routes from city neighborhoods to job centers in its core.

Some of those paths cut commuters’ travel time in half, he said.

John Hertel, general manager at SMART, said his group is working to replace all of its buses, including those that had logged more than 500,000 miles.

Sommer Woods, who represented the QLine, offered that the 6.6-mile streetcar loop is slated to come online in the spring.

The information encouraged Candace Jones, a Detroiter who traveled to the meeting by bus. “It’s good to have the public here because you need the people that’s catching the buses and seeing the problems with transit. Lately it’s been getting improved because of meetings like this and listening to the people. Our voices are being heard.”