If you think Detroiters don’t use mass transit, you might be in for a surprise. Today we learned a staggering 40% of city households do not even own a car, and they’re currently being served by what even the mayor admits to be “the worst” of the Detroit services.

The fact is that for the about last two decades, you haven’t been able to get around reliably by anything but a car around here, or if it has been reliable, it’s very limited service. If you didn’t know, Metro Detroit has two separate transit systems that serve the suburbs and city that only have minor coordination, and 77% of the Detroit fleet is nine or more years old, where the average age is about 7.5 years.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

“First we are going to stabilize our system and begin providing reliable scheduled service. Then we begin to add new service as more of these new buses come on line,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who formerly headed the suburban bus system, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation).

To that end, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx showed up at an event with the Mayor to officially announce 50 new buses coming to the city. The money is from a $100 million nationwide program called “Ladders of Opportunity,” of which $25.9 million was awarded to Detroit. There was a “competitive bidding process” for the money. The State of Michigan kicked in additional funds to bring the total to a little more than $32.3 million.

There will be hybrid fuel, articulated (longer, multi-section) buses for heavy use routes, and standard buses.

These 50 will add to another 31 or so buses that should be here in the early part of next year. Despite the shining bus that was pulled up to Cass Tech high school, the majority of the fleet is pretty banged up. One of the reasons why Detroit buses are not on time is that there simply aren’t enough buses to fill the schedule. Every afternoon, 229 buses are required to fulfill the schedule and right now, only 190 do so. That’s 39 buses every day that simply don’t show up (before incidents like breakdowns and such), meaning many Detroiters simply can’t get to jobs on time.

The schedule was also cut 30% back in 2010 under former Mayor Dave Bing, which Duggan hopes to restore.

Before economic revitalization can truly impact the neighborhoods in a meaningful way, Detroit needs a public transportation system that works.

A DDOT bus sits outside of Cass Tech

The key to remember about a transportation system is that it’s a hand up, not a hand out. Every other major city in America, and any truly world class city, has a real, working transit system. Detroit’s taking steps to get there with the new M1 Rail and these additional coaches, but it will be into 2015 when we’re told reliability will be back to the Detroit Department of Transportation.

In total, over the next two years, there will be a minimum of 81 buses added to the DDOT fleet.

Share this post