Detroit regional bus system's future will be decided on August 5th ballot

Jul 28, 2014

Credit via smartbus.org

Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties face a crucial millage proposal on the August 5th ballot that could decide the future of the region’s mass transit system.

The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) is southeast Michigan’s only bus system outside the city of Detroit.

SMART covers by far the largest square mileage of Michigan’s mass transit systems, but has the lowest millage rate supporting it.

The ballot measure asks voters to nearly double the current millage to exactly 1 mil.

SMART General Manager John Hertel says the system desperately needs the money to start purchasing new buses to replace its aging fleet.

More than 80% of SMART’s buses have logged at least 500,000 miles, and 98% of them are used every day. Hertel says that means maintenance costs have skyrocketed, as millage revenues have fallen off with declining property values.

“If this doesn’t pass, we go out of business,” Hertel says. “Because we can’t purchase the buses we need, and also can’t maintain a balanced budget [as required by state law].”

Hertel says a majority of voters in all three counties needs to vote “yes” for SMART to continue operating at current levels.

“Each county has to individually approve it if they want to have the services,” Hertel says. “If two of the counties approve it and one doesn’t, then those two counties would continue to have service, but the other county would not.”

Hertel says any reduction in service would be a huge blow to some of the region’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and the disabled.

And hundreds of thousands of people, many of them low-income, rely on SMART to get to and from work on a regular basis.

“70% of the people that we are moving every day are going to work,” Hertel says. “Without SMART, they wouldn’t be able to get to work.”