SMART survey spurs debate

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published March 27, 2018

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Although the city opted out of the SMART bus program in the 1990s, recent survey results reveal an interest in some of the new options the bus service offers.

“People are looking for more information and what public transportation options are,” Robert Cramer, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation deputy general manager, said during a March 12 presentation to the Rochester Hills City Council.     

“Residents need to know more about what transit would look like in their community,” Cramer said. “We focus on having many layers of transportation. There is no one solution.”

The bus system offers new options, including the FAST — Frequent Affordable Safe Transit — service of fixed routes and reservation-based curbside small bus transportation for all residents.

“It think it is really important to keep a conversation about mass transit going,” City Councilwoman Jenny McCardell said. “There is a growing want, especially among the millennial generation, for mass transit and walkability.”

City Council President Mark Tisdel said the city’s neighborhoods were not designed to support bus routes.

“Many subdivisions do not have sidewalks. They were designed that way specifically to limit walkability because people moved out here for privacy. They didn’t want people walking around their neighborhoods,” Tisdel said.

Tisdel asked about ridership on SMART’s new FAST service, which includes express service from Troy to Detroit, among other routes.

“I am not interested in promoting a service with taxpayer dollars that has buses running around empty,” Tisdel said.

Cramer said the FAST service is only two months old and is still under review.  

City Councilman Dale Hetrick asked Cramer how ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft fit into the future of public transportation.

“Lyft and Uber could help restore transit as an option for people,” Cramer said. “When you use a service like Uber, you start to think about transportation options. Uber can fill a very important gap late at night, or (provide) a good way to fill that last mile or two connection. It can be a good supplement to transit options.”

Established in 1967, SMART is southeast Michigan’s only regional public transportation provider, offering transportation for Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. The SMART bus services are supported by federal and state funding, local contributions through a transit property tax millage from opt-in communities, and bus fares.

The results of a phone survey conducted by Mitchell Research last October revealed that of 400 Rochester Hills and Rochester residents surveyed, 49 percent would likely vote “yes” for a 1-mill SMART property tax. Respondents also said that results matter more than costs, Cramer said.     

“This is something that is near and dear to my heart,” City Councilwoman Susan Bowyer said. She said she would like to see a fixed bus route within the city, allowing for no more than a half-mile walk to a bus stop, and a Rochester Road connector.

“Our city is so congested, and it is just going to be getting worse,” Bowyer said. 

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