Oakland County locked in for public transportation services

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published August 5, 2014

 Precinct workers in West Bloomfield check in voters for the Aug. 5 primary election.

Precinct workers in West Bloomfield check in voters for the Aug. 5 primary election.

Photo by Donna Agusti

OAKLAND COUNTY — Voters in Oakland County decided the fate of a millage renewal and increase proposed by the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation during the Aug. 5 primary election.

Voters approved the measure 73.62 percent to 26.38 percent, according to the Oakland County Election Division’s results. The proposal increased the current 0.59 mills levied by the Oakland County Public Transportation Authority for the years 2012-2013 to 1 mill for the years 2014-2017. The owner of a home with a State Equalized Value of $100,000 will pay $100 per year for the 1-mill tax.

The increase and renewal will allow for the continued support the SMART public  transportation system, and the tax increase will appear on winter taxes.  

Charlotte Sperko of West Bloomfield voted at Precinct 15, located at the West Bloomfield Township Public Library, just before 9 a.m. She said that the proposals on the ballot were crucial, especially the SMART millage renewal and increase.

“The SMART transit system is long overdue, long overdue,” she said. “Public transportation is so important, especially for working class folks and students ... to get around.”

SMART originally proposed the increase due to a dilapidated bus fleet, and since 2008, SMART has lost about $50 million in revenue from the decrease in property values. Beth Gibbons, spokesperson for SMART, said that SMART has made $11 million budget adjustments in areas including wages, benefit concessions and cutting expenses.

Eighty percent of the bus fleet is over the mileage guidelines that the Federal Transit Administration allows, topping 500,000 miles per bus, according to Gibbons. The additional funding SMART will receive from the 1 mill will be used to help replace the aging fleet.

SMART was established in 1989, with the first SMART millage being instituted in 1995, according to Gibbons. SMART is Michigan’s only southeast regional public transportation provider, and has served all of Macomb County and portions of Wayne and Oakland counties.

West Bloomfield resident Cassie Boyd said she didn’t have a strong opinion about the millage, but she “circled yes” because “it’s good to have public transportation available for people who don’t have cars.”

Oakland County is considered an opt-in community, and individual communities can opt in or out of SMART services. Because Oakland County approved the tax increase, communities that opted out in the past will not pay, and opt-in communities will pay until or unless they opted out when the next opt-out period arrived. Oakland County currently has 24 opt-in communities, according Gibbons.

SMART provides three levels of service. The first is the fixed bus route system that runs throughout the three counties. SMART has 43 routes and 233 fixed route buses that run through the three counties, Gibbons said.

The second is a smaller, connector service that SMART operates through advanced reservations. Gibbons said that typically, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities use the advanced reservation system. The third is a community partnership program that was created in 1995. Each community that participates in the millage receives money from the millage to run their own transit service. SMART provides the buses and helps with technical issues, but the individual communities hire their own drivers and schedule trips. Gibbons said the buses tend to stay within the local communities.

“Two and three are a huge piece of what we do and (show) how … important the transit service is in this region,” Gibbons said, referring to the three levels of service.

SMART is supported by federal and state funding, property tax millage revenue from opt-in communities and bus fares.

For routes and fare information, visit www.smartbus.org or call (866) 962-5515.