Royal Oak plans to survey residents and organizations to gauge interest in funding a city-operated transit system to connect residents who aren’t served by SMART buses to downtown and other attractions.
Proponents also hope such a system would ease chronic parking shortages.
Talks are in an early stage to design a system that would complement but not eliminate SMART, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation that operates buses outside of the city. A seven-member transit task force met to discuss the draft survey and other issues Wednesday. Marie Donigan, the chair of the task force, said SMART is designed for regional transportation but leaves some areas of the city underserved by buses and makes many connections difficult.
“I think of this whole project as being like SMART-plus, like an addition to SMART service,” she said. “We already have SMART service, how can we add to SMART service to make it more usable for the residents of Royal Oak?”
The panel met twice in December and has heard from officials from SMART, Royal Oak Schools and Beaumont. The Detroit Zoo told panel members it has worsening parking problems, has begun renting shuttle busses for attendees who park off-site and has worked with the state to alleviate traffic congestion coming off of I-696.
The proposal, unofficially dubbed ROGO, for Royal Oak Go, could be modeled after the senior shuttle buses already operated by SMART. Or it could go the way of so-called microtransit, which doesn’t necessarily follow fixed routes and can adjust to demand. The price tag would likely run in the millions of dollars but would depend on the number of routes, vehicles needed and technology involved.
If the idea gains traction, supporters could put it on the ballot as soon as August, when a tax supporting SMART comes up for renewal, though supporters acknowledge that might be ambitious, since the Royal Oak City Commission would also have to approve ballot language months in advance.
The ROGO idea comes as the Regional Transit Authority members are reportedly close to hatching a new proposal to place before voters. The RTA’s 20-year, $4.6 billion plan was narrowly defeated by voters in November 2016. It also comes as a plan hatched by neighboring Ferndale to operate a trolley with Royal Oak and Detroit reportedly fizzled.
Separately, Royal Oak is among several suburban communities — including Ferndale, Berkley and Birmingham — that have been talking with MoGo about expanding the Detroit bike sharing program, said James Krizan, assistant to the Royal Oak city manager.
Donigan, a former state representative and Royal Oak city commissioner who has a long involvement in transit issues, said the idea for ROGO came to her last year, when she filled in for a vacant seat on the City Commission. She was struck by the fact that, 20 years after she left the Commission, officials were still talking about parking problems in the city. It got her thinking about the benefits of transit.
Panel members plan to finalize the survey next week, then hold an open house at the end of February to discuss findings.
“If we find out nobody wants it, then nobody wants it,” Donigan said. “If we find out there’s some demand for certain things… we have to just go out and talk to the community.”