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 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. 

1 comment:

  1. Please sign my petition to restore over $100 Million per year in lost State fuel tax money to help pay for 24 hour public bus service and end the prohibition of no full bus service to downtown Detroit and metro airport. See