Surprising Success: Fall 2018 Update

 Sometimes success comes in unexpected ways.

Transit is improving. It may not always feel like change is happening and it’s not yet enough, but improvements should be celebrated!

When we worked in 2015 with the RTA to develop a Regional Transit Plan, we asked our members their priorities for improved and expanded transit. We heard:

  • Seamless, not limited by city borders
  • Faster, able to compete with driving time
  • Frequent, so riders don’t have to wait around
  • Modern, with on-board wi-fi and easy pay by smartphone app
  • Simpler, to invite new riders.

While the RTA millage that would have funded these and other improvements was narrowly defeated, member desires were heard, and not just by the RTA.

Today, DDOT and SMART are implementing parts of the Regional Transit Plan.

  • SMART’s new FAST service provides seamless transit into and out of Detroit, running faster and more frequently on three of our region’s busiest roadways. It even goes to the Airport! 
  • DDOT’s new ConnectTen routes now all run 24-hours a day, run more frequently, with route names that are simpler to understand.
  • Both are adding on-board wi-fi.
  • And both are exploring modernized fares that would eliminate confusing transfers, speed up service, and allow for pay-by-smartphone-app very soon! TRU is pleased to have advised the Mayor’s team in shaping these groundbreaking proposals.

We applaud this important progress and everyone who helped make it possible!


We helped ensure SMART buses will keep rolling.

TRU’s Megan Owens debated anti-transit Leon Drolet and other in advance of the SMART millage renewal August 2018

Despite providing a critical service for more than twenty years, SMART’s millage renewal was threatened by a misleading opposition campaign that ignorantly claimed buses could simply be replaced by Uber vouchers. TRU worked to counter them in social media and in major news media.

Oakland and Wayne communities passed the SMART millage renewal with more than 70% support, as did Washtenaw County communities did in renewing the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority millage. However in Macomb County, the renewal passed by fewer than 40 votes out of 150,000 cast! The opponents even demanded a recount, trying to scrape together enough votes to kill SMART. We served as challengers during the recount and helped ensure a fair and accurate vote count that preserved SMART’s victory and ensured that SMART will keep rolling for another four years!


Major transit needs still remain.

Despite improvements, DDOT and SMART remain very limited by some of the smallest budgets of any major city in the nation and by the geographic areas that they serve. They are doing the most they can within the limits placed on them.

Much of the RTA’s Regional Transit Plan cannot be implemented without new dedicated funding, including improvements that members very much want, like:

  • Commuter rail service connecting Detroit with Ann Arbor
  • Bus Rapid Transit with key enhancements like dedicated lanes
  • Expanded service into major opt-out communities like Plymouth, Canton, Novi, Livonia, and Rochester.

That’s why we pushed to pass the 2016 ballot measure and to get RTA back on the ballot this fall. While public support for regional transit investment has never been greater, we have yet overcome entrenched suburban opponents so the region will not vote on transit investment this fall. But we’re far from done!


TRU remains committed to growing voter support for transit.

Our board recently reaffirmed that our top priority remains getting transit back on the ballot with enough public support to win. We’ll support the RTA and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s efforts to modify the RTA law to remove very rural areas and instead focus the RTA on serving urban and suburban areas.

To build on our long record of public education, we are expanding our work to increase public understanding of transit benefits to build public support for regional transit investment. Whenever transit is back on the ballot (most likely Nov 2020), we’ll make sure voters are fully ready to support it.

  • Our Let’s Talk Transit peer-to-peer speakers bureau has presented to more than 600 people at more than 25 community groups from Utica to Garden City; 92% say they are more likely to support transit investment following our presentation!
  • We continue to improve transit messaging, seeking the most persuasive ways to counter myths and help non-transit-riders to understand how they benefit. We are expanding micro-targeted social media outreach to help specific communities understand how they benefit.
  • And we’ll continue to partner with other supportive organizations, businesses, and institutions to educate and engage their members and employees.

We’re also advancing transit beyond the ballot.

New mobility technologies and services are changing transit. They were used as an excuse to try to stop funding vital bus service, yet also have the potential to enhance rider experiences and attract more people to try transit. That’s why TRU is working this year to explore the intersection of new mobility with transit, working to identify the how new mobility can support transit and enhance equity and access.

Recognizing increasing congestion and parking challenges downtown, we will also be exploring ways to encourage more people to try transit. While both SMART and DDOT’s services have improved, there are still far too many people who have never tried them. While not be feasible for everyone, many people could benefit from a transit commute, so we want to help them do so.


Boosting transit in the Motor City is no easy task, but TRU remains dedicated for the long-haul!

Clearly, transit improvement takes longer than any of us want. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But with support from TRU members and allies, even greater success is on its way.

TRU’s been at this for nearly 20 years now, and we’re not going anywhere. We’ve succeeded in transforming the much of the region’s transit conversation from complete apathy to eager interest. Thanks to everyone who helped make transit progress possible.

TRU is in it to win it, no matter how long it takes!