Getting around Metro Detroit isn’t easy without a car.
Though we love our cars here in Motor City, a University of Michigan study found more than a quarter of metro Detroit households don’t have one. That’s the 8th highest percentage in the nation.
Inadequate public transportation is one of the reasons Amazon leaders said Detroit wasn’t chosen for the multi billion dollar company’s 2nd headquarters.
7 Action News went along on one woman’s commute to experience our system first hand.
Metro Detroit’s SMART bus system can be a mystery for those who haven’t used it.
Betty Cook is bit of an expert.
“Well I ride it 5 days a week!” She says with a laugh.
She spends up to 5 and a half hours commuting to and from work every day.
“By the time I get home and walk in the door it’s 8:05”
She gets off work at 4:30.
7 Action News met up with Betty at Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield when her shift ended at 4:30 p.m. to experience her long journey home to Detroit firsthand.
According to the bus schedule, that journey was supposed to begin at 435, but 435 came and went, and no bus.
Betty wasn’t surprised.
“Sometimes the bus don’t show up and you have to wait until the next bus comes,” she says it happens often.
We had about 30 minutes to get to know each other waiting at the bus stop before the 4:35 bus finally arrived at 5:07.
The bus driver apologized for being late and said the bus broke down.
It was a comfortable ride through rush hour traffic, but the clock doesn’t stop even when the buses do and we had another bus to catch.
Just like air travel, when the first leg of the trip is late, there’s a good chance you’ll miss a connection. Like we did
One late bus created a domino effect.
We hopped off the 405 at 9 Mile near Providence Hospital and ran across the street to the next stop.
Where we ended up sitting and waiting for the next bus, #710, to take us to our 3rd and final bus stop to catch the 510.
“The sun is coming down and it’s getting dark and I get to the point where I start walking,” says Betty.
She says this bus, the 510 doesn’t always come when scheduled either.
“A lot of people take off walking. They look back, don’t see the bus and they take off walking,” says Betty.
The trip from her work to her home only cost $2.25, but what would have been a 45-minute drive took us over 3 hours by bus.
I asked Robert Cramer, the Deputy General Manager of SMART what’s going on.
“We do have limited resources,” says Cramer.
He says the buses are old and ready to be retired. They are also short on staff.
“Sometimes when its not a bus breaking down, it might be that there are not drivers to run the service so that’s another reason why we’ve been experiencing some of these break downs and missed trips,” says Cramer.
When they are short on drivers, SMART has to cut trips for buses with the fewest number of riders.
Thanks to the recent millage passing, there are solutions on the way.
“September 24th we are having a job fair to try and get more people in these jobs and on the roads,” says Cramer.
Also this month SMART will be conducting on-board rider surveys.
“We want to know when they are not having a good experience and we will do everything we can to improve that for them,” says Cramer.
In November, they will be getting 40 new buses and retiring 40 of the old. Then only ten percent of the fleet will be older than a few years.
Also in the past year and a half since the FAST routes were launched along Woodward and Gratiot, buses pick up every 15 minutes and ridership has significantly increased along those routes.
Smart hopes to run more lines like those in the future.
So hopefully one day soon, Betty can get home before the sun goes down.