Opinion: I rode the bus to work (and liked it)

Aaron B. Andrews
The Detroit News

The D2A2 bus is a dream come true for commuters, and I should know — I slept all the way to work. 

In partnership with the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan on Monday launched the pilot program operated by Michigan Flyer that offers hourly trips between Detroit and Ann Arbor for 16 hours a day during the week starting at 6 a.m. and running to 11 p.m., with limited service on Saturday and Sunday.

It was horrible timing for such a debut, since the COVID-19-motivated shutdowns kept many commuters at home. I was one of two passengers to ride the 8:30 a.m. bus to Detroit on opening day. 

Still, I could see the potential. The Regional Transit authority anticipates an average of 400-500 riders each workday by the end of the pilot program — that’s 100,000-125,000 annual trips a year.

“Those numbers are our initial forecast,” says RTA General Manager Matt Webb. “We are hoping that we can exceed that.”

Webb notes, however, that the course of the virus could drastically affect their numbers.

Even though they had less than 50 riders total as of Wednesday evening, Webb says the authority has no plans to shut down service during the pandemic. In its early stages, the program is leaning on state and federal grant money. The pilot is funded by $2 million in annual grants. The funds are there, even if the riders are self-quarantined.

 “We do feel that the service provides an important connection between Ann Arbor and Detroit, where there have been limited connections,” he says, noting that the bus provides some Detroiters access to the VA hospital in Ann Arbor.

The pilot program is supposed to run for two years before the RTA reassess public interest, but I’ll save everyone the wait and tell you right now: It’s going to be around as long as there are enough commuters like me.

The D2A2 pilot program launched this week offering hourly rides between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The ridership was low due to coronavirus, Andrews writes.

Living in Ann Arbor, I've been commuting the 45 miles to the Motor City every day since June. It's taken a real toll on my car, my wallet and my morale.

My 2006 Chevy Trailblazer isn't what you’d call an economy car. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made that I’m contributing substantially to rising global temperatures. 

With mileage of around 18 miles per gallon, travelling 90 miles per day round trip, that’s five gallons of gas at $2.20 a gallon for a daily total of $11 at the pump. 

And that doesn’t take into account the wear and tear that Michigan roads take on my well-used chariot, a hand-me-down from my grandparents for which I’m very grateful.

My wife and I budget $400 a month for gas and around $100 for incidental maintenance, though sometimes that’s not enough. 

Then there’s the drain of spending up to two hours a day on the road. 

Riding the D2A2 to work costs me $12 and a brisk morning walk.

The D2A2 pilot program launched this week offering hourly rides between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The ridership was low due to coronavirus, Andrews writes.

Base fare for a one-way ticket costs $8. But there’s an advanced booking discount of $2. Better yet, you can purchase a book of 10 tickets at $5 each — that’s $50 for a week of business days. 

That means if you chose to ride the bus five days a week all month, you could do it for $200. And if you’re driving a beater like I am, that’s big savings.

I had to get up earlier to take the bus, but not by much. Travelling by car, I leave Ann Arbor at 8:40 and roll into a parking garage in downtown Detroit at around 9:30 — about 50 minutes.

Taking the bus, I left my home at 7:55 and walked into work at 9:35 — one hour and 40 minutes door to door.

It may take nearly an hour longer, but hey, I’m not driving. Time I’d normally spend in traffic I can spend surfing my phone, reading a book or taking a pre-work nap.

The D2A2 pilot program launched this week offering hourly rides between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The ridership was low due to coronavirus, Andrews writes.

The buses are big — I counted 56 seats on mine. The seats were airplane style with over-arm buckles, collapsible cup-holders and retracting footrests.

It was warm, and the air smelled faintly of carpet cleaner — not a whiff of smoke. 

Pot holes that would have irked me as a driver turned the lumbering bus into a rocking cradle. Through the tinted windows, I could see cars passing us like we were standing still, but I didn’t care. I was relaxed. I tried to read my book, but there was nothing for it.

I was out like a light and only woke when the bus braked gently on our arrival at Grand Circus Park.


Twitter: @Aaron_B_Andrews

Aaron B. Andrews is an editorial fellow at The Detroit News.