Proposed Woodward trolley could run through Ferndale, Royal Oak

Royal Oak asks for more information

By: Mike Koury, Victoria Mitchell | C&G Newspapers | Published April 5, 2017


FERNDALE/ROYAL OAK/PLEASANT RIDGE — The cities of Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Detroit, as well as the Detroit Zoo, might partner on a proposed trolley system that would make stops along Woodward Avenue.

Plans are still in the early phases and at various stages of approval for all involved in the project, called “Fab Cab,” which is being spearheaded by Ferndale, but the city’s community and economic development director, Jordan Twardy, said the pilot program would be a circular system modeled after the K-Line route in the Grosse Pointes and the trolley in Troy.

No route is confirmed, but he said it might go from the University of Detroit Mercy to downtown Royal Oak and the Detroit Zoo, using Woodward Avenue and Livernois Avenue, with possibly one trolley going northbound and one going southbound.

He also mentioned that the type of vehicle is still being determined, whether it would be a trolley, some type of minibus or both.

Twardy said there are many residents in each of the involved areas that not only patronize those cities, but go to the other ones along that corridor.

“In all those destinations, you got economic activity that’s occurring,” he said. “One of their common challenges is parking problems. With all this increased traffic with all these folks, (in) some of these places parking is a very acute challenge, and while this isn’t going to be a silver bullet that’s going to solve that, it’s going to create an option.”

The proposed pilot program, which would run up to three years, wouldn’t replace car traffic, Twardy said, but would give people a different option in a fun, localized, low-barrier way to “enhance that existing activity that’s going on and to more systematically draw in these residents, students, families, businesses, and to really accentuate that cross-pollination that’s happening.”

The trolley system would be free, running from 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Sundays could be looked at as well if there is a demand for it, according to Twardy. It would be paid for by drawing in the private sector with sponsorship opportunities, such as wrapping the vehicle with graphics. There also would be an app to track where the trolley is, and a business would be able to sponsor the app and have a star on the route to showcase them.

“The idea would be private sponsorships take over the lion’s share of operating costs,” Twardy said.

“We want people to hop on and use it. We’d rather them spend that money. That’s money that they might’ve spent on parking, they might’ve spent on gas. We want them to spend that in the bars and restaurants. We want them to spend that in the stores.”

So far, only Pleasant Ridge and the Detroit Zoo have committed to their annual price tags for the system at $10,000 and $30,000, respectively. Twardy said Ferndale and Detroit still are working through the process, and he hopes the project will go to the Ferndale City Council before the end of April. Ferndale and Detroit would pay $50,000 annually, though Ferndale also would pay a one-time infusion of $80,000 to help fund some of the capital startup costs.

Royal Oak’s City Commission discussed the proposal during its March 27 meeting, but decided it was lacking enough detail about the project to approve Royal Oak’s participation and the requested annual contribution of $50,000.

“Love the concept, love the idea, but $50,000 is a lot of money,” said Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier, who added that it would be helpful to understand more about what ridership would look like and if it would help or hurt downtown Royal Oak’s parking issues.

“We have a responsibility to our taxpayers to make sure that every dollar we spend gets put to the best and highest public use,” Fournier said.

Royal Oak City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc agreed that the commission needs more details and more time to look into the initiative.

“I think it is an important first step for having a real conversation about collaborating with our neighbors around transit,” DuBuc said.

DuBuc said it strikes him as more of a novelty, although the connection with the zoo and the downtown is good.

“But I wouldn’t want it to be seen as actually filling the void that currently exists in our community regarding connecting potential services and destinations,” DuBuc said.

Royal Oak City Commissioner Marie Donigan said the benefit from going from the University of Detroit to downtown Ferndale is completely appropriate for downtown Ferndale, but she has too many questions at this time to approve Royal Oak’s involvement.

“I applaud Ferndale for doing this project; I hope it works out and I hope we can become a part of it,” Donigan said.

Fournier said they will continue to look into the initiative, and the majority of the commission seems open to the concept.

“So, it’s not a yes, it’s not a no, it’s a ‘like the idea, please get me more information and help answer some of our questions,’” Fournier said.

Twardy said the project still is in startup mode and that a delay by Royal Oak won’t affect anything, and Ferndale will provide Royal Oak with all the data it needs to make a decision.

“We would want them to make it from a position of being informed,” he said. “We respect that they’re seriously considering it. The fact that they have questions is cool with us. We’re happy to work with them either way, and ultimately whatever decision they make, we’re going to respect.”

If Royal Oak ultimately decides not to get involved with the project, the other cities won’t have to put in more money, said Twardy, but he doesn’t know if there still would be a stop in Royal Oak.

“That would be something that we have to work out,” he said. “The project itself would move forward, but we’d have to talk about, like, whether or not a stop’s there if they don’t provide funding. That’s not meant to be disrespectful at all. It’s just … it would cost money to serve that stop.”

There’s no timetable for when the trolley system could be up and running, but Twardy is hoping for a spring or summer launch, running it from May 1 to Halloween each year.

“That might be really ambitious,” he said. “We may start it in June or July, but ultimately, we want to do it right, obviously, and we want to make sure that our partners have the opportunity to have all their questions answered to make sure they feel 100-percent comfortable.”