TRU’s 2015 Year-in-Review

This year has seen significant progress towards the quality regional transit system greater Detroit needs, including M-1 Rail construction, new DDOT buses, RTA transit planning, and more.

These improvements don’t happen randomly or in a vacuum. It is only through many years of dedicated advocacy work by TRU and our partners and allies that transit has finally begun to turn around. Here is a summary of some of that work from 2015 (which can be downloaded as a pdf to print):

Promoting the Benefits of Transit Investment

TRU Director Megan Owens explained to the Fox 2 panel about the thousands of people who need reliable transit.

Persuading a majority of southeast Michigan that transit is worth investing in continues to be one of TRU’s top priorities. One way we achieve that is by providing the media with timely trustworthy transit information. TRU was quoted in more than 50 newspaper stories and broadcast interviews in 22 different publications, including:

  • A 12 minute panel discussion on the FOX 2 News program “Let It Rip,”
  • A opinion editorial in the Detroit Free Press,
  • A 5 minute interview on Channel 7’s “Spotlight on the News,” and
  • A quote in one of the Detroit Free Press’s most viewed stories of the year (“the walking man“).
TRU staff made dozens of presentations across the region, highlighting the importance of investing in quality transit.

Additionally, TRU staff made more than 25 presentations to audiences ranging from 10 and 150 people, including:

  • At the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference,
  • At the Center for Transportation Excellence’s national conference,
  • Before Detroit City Council (on several occasions),
  • Before Leadership Detroit, the Detroit Women’s Club, and others.

Community Engagement to Build Public Support for Funding Transit

HeyRTA TM to EugeneTRU lead a large community engagement effort throughout the summer, asking people to share why transit matters to them and what improvements they wanted. At 20 different festivals, fireworks, and other events across four counties, we talked with more than 1,400 people and received 750 written comments and nearly 100 photo statements.

HeyRTA TM would prefer transitThis input helped the RTA better understand community concerns as they shape rapid transit plans and the regional transit plan. We also utilized compelling photo statements at events and on social media to get more people thinking about transit.

 Seize Upon Unexpected Opportunities for Transit Education

The enormous attention paid to James Robertson's 21 mile walk to work helped highlight the need for better transit.
The enormous attention paid to James Robertson’s 21 mile walk to work helped highlight the need for better transit for the thousands of people like him.

In February, when one Detroit man’s challenging commute became an international story, TRU seized upon the opportunity to draw attention to transit needs. In the initial Detroit Free Press feature about James Robertson’s 21 mile walk and in dozens more stories that followed it, TRU highlighted the thousands more riders like him who need quality regional transit.

TRU Director Megan Owens appeared on the FOX 2 News program “Let It Rip” and published an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press. We also turned the attention into a call for action, mobilizing 145 people to send emails to regional transit leaders and 1,300 to sign a petition demanding a plan to fix the gaps in transit service.

In the aftermath, DDOT is now restoring the 24-hour bus service he needed on several routes and SMART reached out to opt-out communities about joining. The RTA is striving to address the gaps we highlighted in the regional transit plan they are developing. Progress!

Support and Advococy to RTA, DDOT, SMART and M-1 Rail

TRU educated thousands of people about transit and mobilized input to the RTA from 750 people.
TRU educated thousands of people about transit and mobilized input to the RTA from 750 people.

As it has been for 15 years, TRU continues to be both a staunch defender and tough critic of area transit agencies.

TRU continues to watchdog and advance the work of the Regional Transit Authority, both through direct engagement and by mobilizing community engagement. We promoted RTA public meetings and mobilized over 750 public comments towards transit plans. We also continued to provide leadership to the Citizen’s Advisory Council in developing policy recommendations and providing input to the RTA.

We also provided concrete recommendations about ways to improve DDOT bus service in regular meetings with DDOT management and City Council. TRU staff also serve on the Oakland County Public Transit Authority which oversees SMART bus service and on the Community Advisory Council for M-1 Rail, regularly providing advice and recommendations on ways to improve their services.

Bringing supporters together in a regional transit coalition: Momentum!

We are very excited about new coalition we helped launch this year called Momentum: the Regional Coalition for 21st Century Transit. Many organizations and businesses understand the importance of investing in improved transit. So working in close partnership with several other groups, we created the Momentum coalition as a simple single source for groups to share their support and take timely, effective actions to help advance transit.

Momentum is greatly broadening the tent of transit supporters. Already, over 75 organizations, institutions, elected leaders, and businesses have already signed onto Momentum’s statement of transit support, including (partial list) ACCESS, American Federation of Teachers, Area Agency on Aging 1b, Detroit Experience Factory, Focus: HOPE, Goodwill Industries, Jewish Family Services, and Wayne State University.

To learn more and to sign on an organization or business you’re a decision-maker for, go to!

Celebrating transit champions at the Regional Transit Awards dinner

Cornelius Henry received the Transit Employee of the Year Award for his work at the Detroit People Mover.
Cornelius Henry received the Transit Employee of the Year Award for his work at the Detroit People Mover.

TRU hosted our fourth annual Regional Transit Awards dinner in May, bringing together 150 transit staff, advocates, and supporters to celebrate the great progress being made on transit. We recognized 20 hard-working individuals and groups for their efforts towards transit improvement and handed out awards to the following transit champions:

  • Forward Motion Award for Most Effective Public Servant winner Melanie Piana
  • Unsung Hero award winner Rev. Louise Ott
  • Exemplary Innovation Award winner PEAC for hands-on teaching of disabled studetns to ride transit
  • Transit Employee of the Year award winner Cornelius Henry
  • Rising Transit Star award winner Jordan Twardy
  • Plus Face of Transit awardees James Robertson and the Detroit Free Press

Said Goodbye to Longtime Transit Advocate Marcia Yakes

Unfortunately 2015 also saw the passing of TRU’s longest serving Board member, Marcia Yakes.

Marcia Yakes fought for reliable affordable bus service for decades, before passing away in September 2015.
Marcia Yakes fought for reliable affordable bus service for decades, before passing away in September 2015.

When TRU was first founded in 1999, Marcia Yakes was already fighting for better Detroit buses. She frequented DDOT meetings and City Council hearings, complaining that if she could have back all the time she spent waiting on DDOT buses, she’d be a decade younger! She joined TRU’s founding board and for the past 15 years helped keep TRU’s Board grounded in the needs of daily riders.

It is with sad hearts and fond memories that we say goodbye to Marcia. Her feisty spunk and attitude is deeply missed.


We are proud of the role we have played in building public support for improving public transit and look forward to an even more exciting 2016!

Note – this work is made possible by transit supporters who donate to TRU.

Please support our work with a donation today!

A big thank you to everyone who helped make it happen!!