SMART is presenting a new plan to improve service that it hopes to roll out over the next five years featuring expanded hours of service, additional routes and an on-demand bus service called microtransit.

SMART is presenting a new plan to improve service that it hopes to roll out over the next five years featuring expanded hours of service, additional routes and an on-demand bus service called microtransit.

Photo provided by Beth Gibbons


SMART proposes new plan for service improvements

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 5, 2019

 SMART Director of Transportation Tony Vinson explains SMART’s new plan at a public meeting on the topic held at Eastpointe City Hall Oct. 29.

SMART Director of Transportation Tony Vinson explains SMART’s new plan at a public meeting on the topic held at Eastpointe City Hall Oct. 29.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

METRO DETROIT — The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation is presenting a plan for improvements and upgrades to the public that it hopes to implement over the next five years.

This long-term proposed service plan consists of three phases,  with different aspects of the plan being put into practice in each phase.

“This plan is intended to serve as a guiding document, so the plan does not include approval for implementation,” said SMART Deputy General Manager Robert Cramer. “We wanted to come up with a prioritized list of improvements, as funding and circumstances allow, and implement them as possible over the next five years. We still will be following the normal steps, such as public hearings when changes are being considered over that time period. It’s all about modernizing the system so we can grow and adapt with the changing needs in public transit.”

Andrew Ittigson, project manager and senior transit planner from AECOM, a consultant company working with SMART on the project, said the plan was put together after a significant public outreach effort on SMART’s part to communicate with riders and learn about which areas needed to be improved.

“The first step was to create a baseline of all of our fixed-route services,” Ittigson said. “We performed public outreach and analysis. We then put together some recommendations for the next five to 10 years.”

The plan includes offering more weekend routes, more frequent buses, wider geographic coverage, expanded hours of operation and more service on SMART’s Frequent Affordable Safe Transit buses, which it put into service in 2018.

Among the highlights of the plan would be implementing the microtransit system, which would provide on-demand service in certain areas to help connect riders to major routes.

“We want routes to be more reliable and frequent, and introduce additional services on weekends, and more FAST services along the major corridors,” Ittigson said. “We want to be simpler and more direct. We also want to introduce microtransit, which is an Uber-style on-demand service in specific zones.” 

“We already have a connector service, in which you reserve a ride from your house or any other location days in advance, but this is more a real-time service where you can call the day of and have a ride show up 15 or 20 minutes later,” Cramer added. “This could include a walk of a few blocks to try to meet the bus in a spot that will help keep them on schedule, but in which it’s still convenient for the rider.”

Cramer said the service would mark a major improvement in service for riders who don’t live close to one of the highly trafficked FAST routes.

“It would go through an app that people would download. There also would be a parallel system where people can call in if they don’t have a smartphone. The phone makes it easier, because it gives you a map and directions to where you have to go, or you can save routes if you frequently take it to the doctor’s office or something similar, for example,” he said. “FAST helped people along our major corridors, and this will help people get around some of the other areas for riders who don’t live along those corridors. This includes the Groesbeck corridor, for instance. We would want to allow someone to get connected to one of our major routes, like the one along Gratiot.”

Phase one of the improvements would go into effect in the next one to two years; the improvements are designed to be more moderate changes that fit within SMART’s current budget. Phase two would be implemented two to four years down the line and would include the pilot programs for the microtransit system as well as a new FAST route along Van Dyke Avenue and more frequent service along certain routes. Phase three would begin after five years and would include more microtransit zones, more frequent buses along certain routes and a yet-to-be-determined fifth FAST route.

Most of the improvements for phases two and three would require additional funding for SMART. Some at the public meetings raised concerns that SMART would be able to secure such funding, considering the small margin in which SMART’s millage was renewed in 2018, but SMART personnel were confident the improvements involved in this plan would bolster public opinion and encourage more people to support SMART when its millage is up for renewal again in 2022.

“We’re optimistic we’ll be successful in 2022,” SMART’s Director of Transportation, Tony Vinson, said at a public meeting in Eastpointe Oct. 29. “Our phase one plans are all possible with our current budget, so the funding question would only be a factor for the latter phases. … We hope seeing these improvements will improve public support.”

Several public meetings have been held around metro Detroit, and many who have attended had questions about the plan, but impressions seemed positive regarding what SMART was proposing.

“I’m liking what they’re saying so far,” said Roseville resident Rory Machalik. “I’d like to see more weekend service, and that’s something they say they are going to include. … I don’t know about using a phone to use the bus, but I think it will help a lot of other people.”

SMART officials believe the plan, if implemented, would bring a huge improvement to the experience of riders.

“This is largely the way transit is going,” Ittigson remarked. “Fixed routes are changing to this sort of tiered service where you have fixed routes, express routes and now microtransit routes. They all work together to provide the best service.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.