SMART Bus Cuts Deepen Detroit Transit Crisis

Detroit’s Deborah Lawrence may soon have to take five buses to get from home to work.

As the Detroit Department of Transportation bus system sputters, the metro region’s suburban transit agency has announced its own massive cuts. 22 percent of SMART’s service will go, 15 routes will be completely eliminated, and 120 employees would be laid off under the plan.

SMART's shrinking schedule.
SMART’s shrinking schedule.

Lawrence already takes three buses – one Detroit bus and two SMART buses – to reach her job at a nursing home in Roseville. The cuts will scale back one of those SMART buses, the Detroit News reports, adding another two transfers to her commute.

Another 10 routes will have Saturday or Sunday service eliminated, and 11 more will end at the Detroit city limits for some or all trips, leaving riders standing to transfer in the cold – or not, since Detroit’s tattered buses haven’t always been showing up lately.

SMART is trying to secure concessions from its unions, and the announcement should be seen in the context of that effort. The press release on the agency’s website (newly revamped with stimulus funds) makes it clear who it’s targeting with the news: “SMART Unions Fail to Reach Agreement; Service Cuts Required,” it reads.

Whether or not the cuts take effect as proposed, given the sharp decline in property values in the region and SMART’s dependence on a property tax millage, it’s difficult to imagine that SMART service will be sustained absent the formation of a regional transit authority with a new source of funds.

The news is even worse when you consider how bad the existing service is already.

“Doesn’t anybody get it?” Northville resident Robert Shoens asks in a letter to the Free Press. “Why should any company, small or large, open a business or keep one here when it cannot rely on its employees’ ability to get to work?”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel says, somewhat circuitously, of a regional transit authority: “Nobody doesn’t agree it’s necessary.” Indeed, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, as well as the City of Detroit, have all passed resolutions in favor of it. There are just those little questions of governance and funding to be sorted out.

Bus riders have waited long enough for that to happen. Enough with the talk. We need a regional commitment now.

The Free Press says it well in an editorial today: “This is no¬† longer a question of politics…This is a question of survival.”