SMART chief urges more communities to use bus service
Detroit — The general manager for the Metro Detroit suburban bus line Wednesday implored all the communities in Wayne and Oakland counties that opt out of its service to reconsider and help riders get to jobs.
John Hertel, who runs the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, said he has emailed letters to public officials in the 51 cities or townships in Oakland and Wayne counties that do not have SMART service. No place else in America, he said, "has this option to dilute or reduce services except here."
The lack of quality public transportation in Metro Detroit gained national attention in recent weeks with a publicized story about a Detroit man walking up to a total of 21 miles to and from work in Rochester Hills because he was unable to catch a bus all the way to his job. Hertel cited this and the fact SMART's millage passed last year as reasons for opted-out communities to act.
"We looked at the fact that we're buying an entire new fleet of buses, we looked at the fact that the public has approved the millage by such an overwhelming amount and we decided, let's invite everybody to use all of our services," Hertel said at his news conference at SMART headquarters downtown. "When you dilute or reduce services, what you do is not only eliminate some people's options but you also take our situation and make us less efficient."
Hertel said he expects his invitation will garner much interest and his staff is "eager to step forward and help you do that as soon as possible."
The city of Detroit opts out, but it is served by the Detroit Department of Transportation.
Over the past few years, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Township, Walled Lake and Lathrup Village have opted in to SMART's service. "And when they do that, it makes us more efficient. It makes us smoother," Hertel said.
Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, which lobbies for improved transit options, praised Hertel for "actively reaching out and inviting these communities in."
"These city leaders have not had this in-depth consideration of whether to be part of SMART or not," Owens said. "And, what's most important, the voters have never been asked whether they are willing to pay a little more in order to provide this type of service and to make sure no one has to go through the extreme circumstances just to get to work."
In Wayne County, 27 communities use SMART while 17 do not; in Oakland County, 25 communities opt in for bus service but 34 have opted out, officials said. No communities in Macomb County have opted out of service. It's the elected officials, Hertel said, who can opt back in for the service.
Officials at the Regional Transit Authority of Southeastern Michigan have been lobbying communities that have opted out such as Livonia and Rochester Hills.
"Obviously education and outreach is going to be an important part of the regional master plan, and being able to articulate what good transportation can do for a community," said RTA CEO Michael Ford, who attended the news conference. "We need to talk about the efficiency and effectiveness of good transportation as well as jobs and economic development."