Voters to decide future of Royal Oak bus program

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 2, 2018

 A map illustrates two new fixed routes in orange and blue that are proposed as part of the ROGO plan, as well as an extended route in green.

A map illustrates two new fixed routes in orange and blue that are proposed as part of the ROGO plan, as well as an extended route in green.

Map provided by the Royal Oak Transit Task Force

ROYAL OAK — On June 25, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 5-2 to place a millage on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a Royal Oak transit system called “ROGO.”

The proposed five-year, 1.25-mill request would finance the creation and operation of the plan, which the city would run in conjunction with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

ROGO is billed as a “high-frequency fixed-route public transit system” that would operate on weekdays, nights and weekends, and would cover the entire city.

It would add a Crooks/Coolidge loop and a 13 Mile/Rochester/Campbell/11 Mile loop, which would also connect to schools and the senior center. It would expand the existing SMART 430 Main Street route.

The plan would double the funding for curb-to-curb transportation for seniors and people with disabilities, and would increase daily service hours. The budget is currently $250,000 per year.

It also factors in 600 additional hours of service or events or other community priorities.

The plan features 14 buses that would be purchased by SMART, 25 standard shelters, 25 pads with amenities and no shelter, walkways at 75 stops, basic bus stop signs at 168 stops, 14 fareboxes, a bus tracking system and app, and onboard cameras.

The Royal Oak Transit Task Force, led by former state Rep. and former City Commissioner Marie Donigan, looked into the possibility of bridging what it viewed as transportation gaps after the regional transit proposal failed in 2016.

Royal Oak voters approved the regional transit proposal with nearly 60 percent in favor of it, but voters in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties defeated the proposal to allow the Regional Transit Authority to levy 1.2 mills to fund mass transit.

While the city already partners with SMART and offers a dial-to-ride senior bus transportation system, Donigan said she thinks the city can do better.

An 18-question survey that asked Royal Oak residents if they would want a local bus program and how they would use it received 1,218 responses. Many respondents indicated being in favor of increased mobility in Royal Oak without having to drive a car.

Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, a member of the Transit Task Force, said ROGO would leverage a “significant amount” of state and federal dollars to improve transit for everyone.

He said the cost to Royal Oak for a full year would be approximately $4.5 million and, if approved in November, the earliest ROGO could be implemented would be July 2019.

Donigan said fares would be set to generate 5 percent of the annual operating costs — with discounts for people under 18 and over 60, those with disabilities, and students — and that fares would be compatible with SMART rates.

The fare would be $2, or 50 cents for seniors, she said.

“It’s a real transit plan,” Donigan said. “It’s accessible to everyone. Something like this can mean independence for people who live in Royal Oak, regardless of their age and ability.”

She said members of the Transit Task Force do not know how residents will choose to vote, but they did their best to design a system that addresses the needs of the city.

“It seems completely fair to put it to residents to see if this is something that we want,” City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said.

Commissioners Kim Gibbs and Randy LaVasseur cast the two “no” votes.

“This just seems like a very inefficient, old-style system that we’ve seen before that just costs a ton of money, and not the most up-to-date means of which to pursue transportation,” LaVasseur said. “If we’re going to subsidize transportation, it would just make a whole lot more sense to work with Uber, work with Lyft.”

If another regional transit millage were to be passed at a later date, Donigan said the ROGO plan would still be helpful.

“Local communities would still be charged with finding out what kind of transit system they want,” she said. “So we will be ahead of the game.”

While DuBuc said the RTA proposal is still “lingering,” he said most people think it will not move forward.

“If the RTA happens, I think that would change our vision of where the gaps are and how we would want to move forward with something like this,” he said.

Commissioner Sharlan Douglas, a Transit Task Force member, said she would rather see the RTA proposal pass than ROGO, but  she made the motion for the citywide transit plan.

For more information about ROGO, visit www.romi.gov/transit.