Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Demobilized Detroit - JARC failure

Has Detroit been intentionally demobilized?

There have been numerous attempts made at Detroit City Council meetings in 2012 asking for JARC (Job Access Reverse Commute) to be implemented and delays investigated. But it seems true to "Motor City vision" that mass transit would not be taken seriously. Detroit's legacy is with personal transit in automobiles. The Detroit Free Press exposed a long standing problem, one which has sapped Detroit residents of their ability to get to and from work opportunities up to 30 miles from their residence. This was exposed in February 2015 when stories regarding James Robertson's 21 walking mile commute to work was exposed.
The Detroit Department of Transportation received a total of $17.4 million in federal and state transportation funds in 2004-12 to start the program, called Job Access and Reverse Commute, that gives cheap door-to-door rides to work for Detroiters who lack cars. [1]
The cost per ride is $1.50, the same as fixed fare bus service on DDOT. This makes it cheaper than $2.00 on SMART and the cost for transfer tickets of $0.25 and $0.50 on these fixed service bus routes. They are also scheduled at the time you need service, that means no standing in the cold or walking blocks through drifts of blowing snow. There are low income requirements to be part of JARC program, however these don't take into account for the high rates for automobile insurance in the city of Detroit, driven by redlining over decades.

Detroit has been receiving federal and state grant dollars for over a decade on a poorly implemented system that should have HUGE demand.
"In essence the money was sitting there and the city never started the program," said DDOT Director Dan Dirks, who began in early 2014.[1]
Detroit ranked 40th of 70 cities in the Innovative Transportation study in 2014 by Pirgim. 6 services out of 11 surveyed determined the ranking.

  • We have: ride sourcing through Uber, Lyft; round trip car sharing with ZipCar; peer to peer car sharing with RelayRides; open data through Google, Hopstop, gtfs; real time information through Moovit, a transit app; and multi-modal app RideScout. 
  • Missing were: one way carsharing; ride sharing; taxi hailing; bike sharing; virtual ticket info.
The survey suggests governments can offer services that we've seen riders bring up during DDOT community meetings: 
  • Expanding access to cellular networks, wifi, and electric outlets. 
  • Creating access to technology-enabled services in transportation “hubs” near transit stations helping riders make “first mile/last mile” connections.
    • Currently Rosa Parks Transit Center has wifi, but it is closed to public access, it has also opened a single location for cell phone recharging. Given the structure was recently built limiting access to these services is particularly odd as it appears to be intentionally implemented to disable riders. Other hub locations have no building and some no shelter for public access. There has also been a reduction in the number of shelters along bus routes, some through planned removal others subjected to vandalism. Federal grant programs exist specifically for creating bus shelters and equipping them.
  • Enabling ticketing through smartphone apps. This was available in 6 of 70 communities surveyed.
  • Adjusting zoning and planning to accommodate changing modes of transportation - such as easily accessible (reduced fare) space for ride/bike sharing near transit hubs.

Current JARC Information


[1] DDOT sat for years on millions in ride service funds, Detroit Free Press, February 5, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Greener Urban Spaces

There's a wonderful initiative to cover the Autobahn in Hamburg Germany. It's called the "Hamburger Deckel". 3.5km of roadway is going to be covered, turning it into green space and reducing noise in the neighborhoods. There's a great review of the project in English at Streets Without Cars.

If It Was In Detroit...

Inside the tunnel - a concern of handling air pollution from emissions and fresh air circulation. Our freeways are a major contributor to air pollution, especially during rush hour when each curve in the freeway brings traffic to a stop and go nightmare. There would be a fortunate consequence that a tunnel could gather emissions to be managed better. Air circulation into these spaces is required and is likely built into the Deckel's plans.

Outside the tunnel - one benefit is the mitigation of air pollution through creating green spaces to offset carbon emissions with fresh air.

Another benefit in removal of divides in the city caused by the impassable chasms of freeways intertwined around the city. Bringing neighborhoods together through common green space would improve access for those living in the area. 

Public Spaces

Since these areas would be built upon public land these should be put into a community land trust with representatives from the neighborhoods enabled to control the destiny of the property created. It could serve as community market, education spaces, and gardening initiatives. Keep the spaces in the public, that will be needed as the freeway beneath will need to remain in service to the public.

Detroit does have a lot of vacant land... bringing all the chunks together makes it more appealing and usable. Back in 1960s the Black Bottom neighborhood running up Hastings Street was demolished to construct the Chrysler Freeway the people were told something good would be coming in return. This is from the Detroit Historical website:
In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit conducted an Urban Renewal program to combat what it called "Urban Blight." The program razed the entire Black Bottom district and replaced it with the Chrysler Freeway and Lafayette Park, a mixed-income development designed by Mies van der Rohe as a model neighborhood combining residential townhouses, apartments and high-rises with commercial areas. Many of the residents relocated to large public housing projects such as the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects Homes and Jeffries Homes. 

Doing this with an eye toward restorative justice in our communities - bridging the gaps of a century of road divide - would bring Detroit together.

Monday, January 12, 2015

SMART Passing Detroiters In The Cold

The lines are sadly drawn by law - SMART doesn't pickup passengers in Detroit unless it is during the very limited rush hour window of time, and destinations are supposed to be outside city limits. We stand and wait for DDOT buses caught in bus bunching. There are five buses assigned on the major routes - Woodward, Grand River, Gratiot, Michigan. From about 3pm until 6pm those buses become focused on the shuttle of people out of the city - the exodus at the end of the work day.

The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation is under pressure to support changing its boarding policy in the city limits to help ease the burden on Detroit residents who sometimes wait for hours, especially in bad weather. 
SMART officials say they can't stop for stranded riders, citing a 50-year-old ordinance that prohibits them from picking up passengers within the city limits. 
"I don't like the policy at all. (The bus) should stop, you know," said Murdock, 28, of Detroit, while he waited for a Detroit Department of Transportation bus. "It should stop for everybody who lives in Detroit. But it just goes right past."

Service Denied

SMART buses aren't allowed to pickup passengers that commute within Detroit city limits and the route hours headed into Detroit for pickup are limited to hours from 5am-8am and 3pm-6pm. It is hard to watch Detroit residents stand in the cold, with few shelters in the city, waiting for bunched up rush hour commutes to be unsnarled with personal passenger vehicles. SMART buses on their rush hour routes into/out of the city passing by, leaving a warm trail of exhaust in the bitter cold.

Is the flow being monitored centrally through tracking GPS broadcast signals from the buses or on the street by supervisors? DDOT would say both apply. However those on the ground waiting wonder why the pattern of disservice hasn't been met with additional buses launched on segments experiencing need. There are times it happens, but it also seems far too many times it doesn't.
The Citizens Advisory Committee commissioned by the Regional Transit Authority recently called on SMART to work with DDOT to find ways to change the ordinance and update its policy, especially since drivers have selectively picked up passengers. SMART transports riders into the city from the suburbs and then from designated locations downtown back to the suburbs.
Note: The RTA CAC will hold it's first meeting of 2015 on January 26 @4pm at SEMCOG offices, 1001 Woodward, Suite 1400, Detroit. The public is welcome to attend. Focus subcommittee opportunities will be available. An agenda for the meeting can be found through [ this link ].

DDOT buses break down, because every one that is capable of running is sent out each day with little pause in service for preventive maintenance. On a good day a few might be kept on hold to handle extra service, but there's a gamble as to which route, where, and when will the extra buses be needed.

Transfers Between Systems

For those needing to transfer between systems the rules, costs, processes differ. SMART has an FAQ section for reference.
Base fare
Transfer fee
$0.25, if 2 SMART destinations add $0.25 when boarding SMART
Regional pass transfer fee
Duration transfer valid
4 hours
3 hours
If transferring through SMART's flexible service, Dial-A-Ride, and Connector service it is best to check the FAQ for your situation as there are many potential situations.

SMART Isn't For Detroit Residents

If the ordinance changed, "we could probably pick up a few people" but wouldn't be able to meet the large demand. Detroiters are not covered by the SMART millage.
"We also realize that our first responsibility is to the people who are paying our bills," Hertel said. "No one has ever said that if the ordinance changed that we wouldn't pick people up. If I have to make a choice between providing service to someone who has paid for that service and providing service for someone who hasn't, I have to provide it to the person who's paid for it first. That doesn't mean that if I've got the ability I won't also do the other. "
It really all gets down to servicing those whom have had tax dollars put into the system. When money matters more than people's needs, service is generally denied, even on a public mass transit system.
"It's very difficult," Murdock said of the boarding policy. "It's real cold and you're ready to get on the bus to go home and they just pass you right up. And you've got to wait for the DDOT bus to come. And they're always late."

New & Repaired Buses

December 2013 Detroit was awarded $52 million for improvements on 60 vehicles, purchasing security equipment, improving facilities and installing bus shelters. Therefore, an April 2014, RFP 48223 for Mid-life Overhaul of DDOT buses was sent out by DDOT. You can view the RFP and Detailed Price List through the links here. The service life for buses (according to FTA) in DDOT's system most likely hits the 500,000 mile threshold before 12-15 years. As far as improving facilities / installing bus shelters... let's ask some questions for Dan Dirks. (See below for the questions being sent in.) 

Seven buses in the allocation of 80 through a grant from the FTA were put into service this week, the remainder to be in service by Memorial Day.

Funds to purchase the buses at a cost of nearly $500,000 each come from a $13 million federal air quality grant and $25 million in Federal Transit Authority monies.
The Michigan Department of Transportation is matching 20 percent of those grants.
Seventy of the New Flyer buses are slated to be 40-foot clean-diesel coaches; 10, costing about $715,000 each, will be 60-foot buses intended to service the high-demand routes.
Two of the buses are electric hybrids.
Each will be equipped with GPS devices and seven surveillance cameras. The camera configuration includes two external cameras, one looking forward from the windshield and another recording passengers as they enter and exit; and five on-board cameras.
The addition of cameras is expected to yield fewer crashes, on-board assaults and frivolous lawsuits, said DDOT Director Dan Dirks, the former head of the suburban SMART bus system
The buses usually take 2.5 years to order, however DDOT was able to jump forward in the line of deliveries based on FTA requirements for implementation on grant funds. These buses have a lot of surveillance but with the length of service there are few embracing green renewable energy.

How to Embrace Green Energy

One of the proposals we would like to make is harnessing the wind and possibly solar encountered through travel and storing it into a bank of batteries. Why can't the fleet be generating energy as it is being consumed? Think of a few turbines such as this StormBlade (technology from 2006) mounted close to the roof on buses that aren't passing beneath low-clearance bridges. The onboard battery bank could be used on the bus or discharged once at the terminal for maintenance.

New Smart Phone App - "DDOT Bus App"

If you have an Android or iPhone there is a new app available - search for "DDOT Bus App" and you can install the app. 
Since this is a new app I haven't yet had a chance to see how well it tracks real arrival times or scheduled arrival times. Today I'll get a chance to test it out further.


For those without a "smart phone", if your phone is able to text - you can send a message to 5-0464 or 313-499-0937. Simply send the cross streets you desire and you'll get back a list of routes serving that location to select from, then a list of next arrival times as calculated. One thing to note ... if a bus is broken down the time to arrival will not change. So it might be a good idea to check a couple times if waiting for a bus to make sure that one you're waiting for is still moving.

Shortcuts - each intersection and route servicing it has a number which can be entered. That saves going through a couple screens of selection. On the example shown 163 is the shortcut code.

Note the short span of times between these arrival times shown on the example screen... this is an indicator that bus bunching is happening or a bus has broken down still transmitting.

Ditched By DDOT

Recently the people at Ditched By DDOT indicate Dan Dirks would take questions from them. They have in turn offered to submit questions from the public. Ditched By DDOT has a voicemail taking in calls and posting them online. Their phone number is 810-882-1302. When you call speak clearly with little background noise, so the transcription service Google offers gives the best possible result. 

Questions for DDOT (Dan Dirks)

 If you have a question you can send it through DitchedByDDOT@gmail.com. These are the questions we're sending in:
  • The FTA lists the life expectancy for a 40 foot bus as a minimum of 500,000 miles or 12 years. Since Detroit covers a lot of distance, what is the average life span within our current fleet? Which two systems are the most common to contribute to retiring a bus?
  • The Mid-Life Overhaul was to include improving facilities and installation of bus shelters, how was this achieved? Does DDOT have a list of bus shelters and their status, along with those which are planned?
  • Are there hybrid buses in the fleet? Since these have different systems is maintenance on them more or less difficult and are these preferred over traditional diesel power?
  • New Flyer offers full electric buses through the Xcelsior line - when do you anticipate DDOT would purchase these? What conditions would be needed?
  • Will there be any changes with bicycle racks on the buses? Most seem to have racks now, but a few don't. Do you get reports on how frequently bikes are loaded to the buses?
  • What sort of metrics are being published for the public to see and where would they find them? Do you think there could be a link to that information from the new smart phone app?
  • Any chance of hooking up wind or solar power collectors to the buses with a storage battery bank?
  • Finally our perennial question - 24 hour service needs to be restored, what is it going to take? This will enable job opportunities for Detroit residents working odd-shift jobs. Today, most basic employment jobs take place outside the traditional hours of work. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

SMART’s Hertel Hurt by Rider Requests for Restored Service (Motor City Freedom Summer)

This bulletin in from Motor City Freedom Summer, a MOSES focus project.

After many hours of work getting out the vote to keep SMART buses running, we’d hoped that our requests for SMART to consider bus service improvements would be considered in good faith, even if not accepted outright. Unfortunately, we were disappointed.
Yesterday, we went to the SMART Board of Directors meeting to celebrate the metro region’s overwhelming vote of confidence for transit in the August 5 election. We also asked SMART to consider using some portion of the additional $28 million they’ll be getting each year to bring back some level of bus service between Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Outside of morning and evening commute periods, this service was eliminated in December 2011, adding countless hours of waiting for those riders who didn’t give up on getting around by bus entirely.
In public comments, we stressed that the lack of transit between city and suburbs was a hardship on either side of Eight Mile.  “When I would be spending money in the rest of the region,” said Detroit bus rider Syri Simpson, “I’m not able to get out there.” Oakland County resident Tom Zerafa said he’d given up attending Tigers night games since SMART cut evening service into Detroit. “I come down to Comerica Park,” he said, “and I can’t get home.”
However, SMART General Manager John Hertel did not think the possibility of restoring service should be discussed. 
[ Read the full story ]

If you could, please share your concerns with SMART at postmaster@smartbus.org or call them at 313-223-2110. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dan Dirks as New DDOT Director

February 16, 2014 Mayor Duggan brought in a former working partner from his days at SMART as the new director for the Detroit Department of Transportation. The press conference acknowledged things aren't working well with DDOT. Dirks related waiting 35-40 minutes for a Woodward bus, which according to schedule should be every 15 minutes. Detroit is going through bitter cold temperatures with wind chills 30 degrees below freezing - since the bus shelters have been removed in so many places those waiting are quite upset and its let to violence against several bus drivers in the past few weeks. ATU 26 held a rally around the Coleman A Young Municipal Center requesting safe working conditions for its drivers and assistance for the riders.

Things to do as soon as possible:

  • Take care of uploading scheduling information to Google, Bing, Mapquest and other mapping services. This ensures riders can plot a ride route that likely is to include connecting between buses and estimated times for travel and waiting.
  • Maintenance contracts and parts suppliers need to be paid and orders change from delayed to expedited.
  • Hire more mechanics or bring those laid off back if still available.
  • Check on supervisors to ensure their job of regulating the flow of buses to serve rider needs is being performed.
  • Calibrate GPS tracking systems on buses so we don't have invisible buses or ghosts tracked early or late through Text-My-Bus
  • Make sure Text-My-Bus is available not only through the dial code 50464, also make it a local phone number for cell phone service providers that haven't linked up the code or don't offer dial codes.
  • Ensure public notices of meetings are very visible on all buses at least a week in advance, so riders can schedule attending.
  • Stop any planned removal of bus shelters and go back to INSTALLING rather than removing. Funding for shelters is available through State and Federal funding - reference FTA SAFETEA-LU Discretionary Grants (5309)
Eligible capital projects include the purchasing of buses for fleet and service expansion, bus maintenance and administrative facilities, transfer facilities, bus malls, transportation centers, intermodal terminals, park-and-ride stations, acquisition of replacement vehicles, bus rebuilds, bus preventive maintenance, passenger amenities such as passenger shelters and bus stop signs, accessory and miscellaneous equipment such as mobile radio units, supervisory vehicles, fare boxes, computers and shop and garage equipment.

Additional press:

M-1 Rail Alters DDOT Service Along Woodward

This notice of bus pickup and drop off changes has been post at a number of locations around downtown along Woodward. We've been continuing to encounter people standing waiting for a bus at disconnected stops, especially on Woodward at Campus Maritus and at John R northbound. What can / will DDOT do to inform those that have waited for hours of these immediate changes to service?? Is it sufficient to post a notice on a street lamp pole and expect people to read it and comply?

The text from the notice posted is shown. The size of the text is very small on the notices posted, even with the paper size at 12"x18". 

M-1 Rail Detours

During the M-1 Rail construction period, we will be rerouting all boarding and drop offlocations on Woodward South of Grand Circus Park as follows:

#7 Cadillac – Harper

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Washington Blvd. @ Michigan Avenue; Larned @ Woodward
Drop Off: Congress @ Bates; Congress @ Woodward; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#16 Dexter – Weekday service to Griswold @ Jefferson 

Boarding: Griswold @ JeffersonMichigan @ CassWoodward @ Elizabeth
Drop Off: Cass @ Fisher Fwy.Washington Blvd. @ Grand RiverWashington Blvd. @ MichiganGriswold @ Jefferson

#16 Dexter – Nights and Weekends to R. P. T. C. 
Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit CenterWoodward @ Elizabeth
Drop Off: Cass @ Fisher Fwy.; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#18 Fenkell 

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Washington Blvd @ Clifford; Woodward @ Elizabeth
Drop Off: Fisher Fwy. @ Second; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#23 Hamilton 

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Washington Blvd @ Clifford; Woodward @ Elizabeth
Drop Off: Cass @ Fisher Fwy.; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#25 Jefferson – Fort - Eastbound 

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center
Drop Off: Griswold @ Grand River; Larned @ Woodward

#25 Jefferson- Fort - Westbound 
Boarding: Jefferson @ Randolph
Drop Off: Griswold @ Grand River; Griswold @ Jefferson; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#31 Mack 

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Woodward @ Columbia
Drop Off: Woodward @ Henry; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#49 Vernor 

Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Woodward @ Columbia
Drop Off: Fisher Fwy. @ John R; Rosa Parks Transit Center

#53 Woodward – Weekday service to Beaubien @ Jefferson 

Boarding: Beaubien @ Jefferson; Jefferson @ Brush; Jefferson @ Randolph; Griswold @ Larned; Woodward @ Columbia
Drop Off: Woodward @ Henry; Washington Blvd. @ Grand River; Washington Blvd. @ Michigan; Larned @ Woodward

#53 Woodward – Nights and Weekends to R. P. T. C.
Boarding: Rosa Parks Transit Center; Woodward @ Columbia
Drop Off: Woodward @ Henry; Rosa Parks Transit Center between Van Dyke/Warren and Van Dyke/Harper through November 2013 due to reconstruction of the I-94 Bridge

Thursday, January 16, 2014

M-1 & M-2 Rail Operating Licenses - Public Hearing January 22

Michigan Department of Transportation and Detroit Public Works will be reviewing and discussing the M-1 Rail Operating Licenses with a presentation and public comment period on January 22, 2014 at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, most likely in the downstairs auditorium. 

Supporting Documents

Files have been gathered and shared in a collection related to Detroit Transit information.

Public Comments Welcome In Advance

Citizens may complete a written comment form at the hearing or mail, fax or e-mail their comments to: Robert H. Parsons, Public Involvement and Hearings Officer, Bureau of Highway Development, Michigan Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 30050, Lansing, MI 48909; Fax: 517-373-9255; or e-mail:  parsonsb@michigan.gov. Comments must be e-mailed, faxed or postmarked on or before January 24, 2014.  Additional parties interested in comments include: info@m-1rail.com, and transit@occupy-detroit.us to keep us apprised of comments coming through.

Public Notice and Coverage

Notice of the hearing is posted outside the Mayor's office and on other bulletin boards around Coleman A Young Municipal Center. Articles announcing the hearing and comment period have ran in these publications to date:
Note: due to the location being underground and network signals in that room are poor there is very little chance that a live video feed will be available. There will be video coverage provided after the event, however interaction prior to this hearing through written comments is the best way to have a voice in the proceedings.