Letter: We don't think SMART is smart. Here's why

The Detroit News
Riders enter a SMART bus at the Royal Oak Transit Center in Royal Oak.

Metro Detroit's SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus system is inefficient, outdated and inconvenient transit, and the property tax subsidizing it should not be supported on the Aug. 7 ballot.

SMART represents an outmoded transit model that is extremely costly to taxpayers. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, only 3,078 Macomb County residents use SMART to commute to work — less than 1 percent of Macomb workers. Yet Macomb citizens paid almost $46 million in taxes to SMART last year.

SMART claims work commuters are 70 percent of rides they provide and 30 percent are for disabled folks, seniors and others. After factoring out senior/handicapped rides and their costs, SMART spends almost $13,000 per rider each year to get 3,078 workers to jobs. And 90 percent of that cost is borne by taxpayers because SMART only receives about 10 percent of its revenue from the bus fares.

SMART keeps getting more money, yet keeps losing riders. In 2014 the property tax supporting SMART was increased 66 percent, yet SMART ridership has declined every year since.

Who can blame work commuters for avoiding SMART? The service is slow, requires long waits at bus stops and drops people off blocks from their destinations. Commuters want and deserve better.

It would be vastly more convenient for riders and less costly to taxpayers if people without transportation were provided vouchers — a card — they could use toward any transit they choose. Many would choose services like Uber and Lyft that pick them up at their front door and drop them off right at their destination.

Existing gas taxes dedicated to mass transit could be used to subsidize vouchers for those with a demonstrated financial need. It would be less expensive for taxpayers than the annual subsidies to SMART, not require a burdensome property tax and be vastly more convenient for riders.

SMART is bloated with costly buses, mechanical expenses, support staff and lavish pensions it provides to employees. 

The future of transit is not obsolete buses and trolleys. It is individualized transit that gets people where they want, when they want, at lower cost. 

Leon Drolet, chairman, Michigan Taxpayers Alliance


Simon Haddad, vice chairman, Michigan Taxpayers Alliance

Clinton Township