For all the talk of the future of mobility taking root in Detroit, 91 percent of trips are still completed in private cars. According to Mark de la Vergne, chief of mobility for the city of Detroit, the solution to that isn’t an expensive new train system to connect the suburbs to the city. Instead, it’s a little less glamorous, and relies on an infrastructure already in place: fixed route transit options like the SMART bus system.
“This is not the sexiest answer that a lot of people in this city and region like to hear, but it starts with frequent bus service,” de la Vergne said. He was in Austin, Texas, recently and used the city’s bus system to get around the entire time he was visiting. He said lots of people take the bus there. And in Seattle, which is experiencing “explosive growth,” there’s some rail service, “exploding transit” growth, and he said everyone takes the bus. He admitted that the audience and panel at the recent M:bility conference in Dearborn likely wasn’t the demographic who would start riding the bus every day.
Instead, he said in part the focus is on new residents that may have moved to Detroit from other cities that have robust public transit riderships.
“Where it starts is frequent bus service,” he said. “You talk about reliability? The bus is gonna be there.” There will still be gaps in service, however, because a bus system, like any other mobility solution, requires money to operate. Until additional funding shows up, there will be gaps in service. Addressing those gaps is top of mind for de la Vergne’s office.
“How we fill the gaps so that it’s a [mobility] system and not just a collection of things is really what we’re trying to explore,” he said.
One of the ways is the city’s partnership with Lyft to offer ride credits for Detroit Department of Transportation riders during off hours when buses don’t run. Dubbed “Woodward to Work,” the service operates between midnight and 5 a.m. on a fixed route on Woodward Avenue and launched last May. Others include eBikes and their smaller counterparts – scooters. These types of services are smarter and more cost-effective for the city, he said.
We must also consider whether we’re efficiently using the natural resources at hand as well, he said.
“If we’re putting down buses that are running every 10 minutes, getting you downtown within 20 minutes, how are we building land use, whether it’s in the city or suburbs?”