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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.

Five thousand Lansing school students will be riding buses operated by a private company this fall.

The school board voted last night to privatize its bus system. Dean Transportation currently provides bus service to a consortium of Ingham County school districts.

When the Lansing School Board tabled a proposal to privatize its bus service in January, the issue seemed to be put on the back burner until next year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Detroit buses are being outfitted with new security cameras.

Mayor Mike Duggan says the intent is to deter crime against passengers and drivers.

“For far too long, our drivers have not been safe driving the buses. And at times our passengers have not been safe riding the buses,” says Duggan.

Duggan says city bus drivers particularly don’t deserve some of the treatment they’ve been getting.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Lansing school district will continue to operate its own buses next year.

The school board decided Thursday not to go with a private bus company.

Supporters say privatizing the bus service would save the Lansing school district $5 million over the next five years, primarily because the district would not have to replace much of its aging bus fleet.

But school board president Peter Spadafore says now is not the time to privatize the bus service serving thousands of capital city school children.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Emergency Loan Board considers city and school finances in southeast Michigan

"This week the state's Emergency Loan Board will consider the finances of the City of Highland Park, Royal Oak Charter Township and the East Detroit Public Schools. All three are operating with deficits. The Emergency Loan Board will determine if probable financial stress exists in each case. If it does, the governor will appoint his own review team to make a recommendation on what to do next. That could include the appointment of an emergency manager," Lindsey Smith reports.

State seeks to block disclosure in manager case

"The state is asking a judge to block disclosure of emails and documents that members of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration exchanged while deliberating over candidates for Detroit's emergency manager. Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an emergency motion on Snyder's behalf seeking intervention in a lawsuit brought by union activist Robert Davis against the state Treasury Department that seeks documents," the Associated Press reports.

Detroit bus drivers protest violent attacks with a "sick out"

Detroit bus drivers are protesting against a rash of violent attacks on bus drivers. Unionized bus drivers in Detroit have threatened to call in sick today.

Detroit Bus Co. Facebook page

In the quest to improve life in Michigan's cities, one of the biggest challenges comes down to transportation.

And one of the most problem-plagued, dysfunctional bus systems in the entire state is in the city of Detroit, where using a bus to get from Point A to Point B can become a herculean task.

And for kids, it's an even greater challenge getting them to and from summer enrichment and after-school programs and doing it safely.

But there's a solution to that challenge which launched this summer and which may have lessons that can apply to cities all over Michigan.

It's called the Youth Transit Alliance. It's a pilot program funded by the Skillman Foundation, a public-private partnership between the Detroit Bus Company and area youth groups.

Andy Didorosi, the president and founder of the Detroit Bus Company and Nina Ignaczak, the project editor for Model D's transportation series, joined us today to tell us how it works.

Listen to the full interview above.

Michigan Flyer

A private bus service will get a federal grant, despite the objections of Lansing’s Capitol Region International Airport.

The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission last night approved a $595,000 federal grant to the Michigan Flyer. The Flyer currently operates 8 daily round trips from Lansing to Ann Arbor to Metro Airport. The grant will allow its buses to run four more round trips each day.   

Airport officials fear the added bus service will siphon off potential air passengers from Lansing.

Michigan Flyer facebook page

A federal grant to expand bus service between Lansing and Detroit Metro Airport is stalled.



The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission split nine to nine on authorizing a $600,000 grant to help the Michigan Flyer expand its daily trips from eight to twelve.    The commissioner with the potential tie-breaking vote did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting.


Josh Leffingwell / Friends of Transit

People in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker will vote this November on whether to withdraw from the regional bus system. Now transportation supporters are fighting back.

Supporters of the bus system in metro Grand Rapid held a kick-off rally in defense of the bus sytem, known as The Rapid.

Barbara Holt is a Walker City Commissioner and chairwoman of the regional transit authority. She and other business leaders at the rally said keeping Walker connected is vital to the overall community's economy.

“People can stay in Walker, go shopping someplace else, go working someplace else but we all come back. It’s so important that we do not isolate ourselves from the region,” Holt said.

“I use it for work, when I was working on my masters degree I used for school, medical appointments. I use it for everything,” Walker resident Tom Gilson said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in a Grand Rapids suburb will decide in November whether the city should withdraw from the regional bus system.

This week the City of Walker certified petition signatures collected by the Kent County Taxpayers Alliance.

Ben Reisterer lives in Walker and is with the alliance.

"We’re not against busing at all. We think it’s a good thing for the community. But we don’t necessarily agree with the way they are going about providing that service," Reisterer said.

Several cities in Michigan saw large increases in bus ridership in the first quarter of this year.

But the state's largest city saw a decline.

Bus ridership on "The Rapid" jumped 12% in the Grand Rapids metro area. 

Spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk says more people use the bus when gas prices go up.

But she says The Rapid also has more buses running at night now, and running later at night.  That increase in service began in January, after residents approved a new millage last year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Today some people in the Cities of Granville and Walker will begin collecting signatures to get their cities out of the partnership that runs the bus system in metro Grand Rapids. It’s called The Rapid.

The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance says it's not against bus transportation in general, but feels the system is wasting tax dollars. The grassroots organization with volunteer staff tries to keeps tabs on taxpayer dollars in local government.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Rapid busses start a new schedule Monday that will better serve riders late at night, on the weekends, and more frequently during the workday. The bus service is improving thanks to a millage voters passed back in May.

There’s a sense of gloom throughout the mass transit community in Michigan today. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he was canceling the long-talked about light rail line to be built up Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

They’ve been discussing light rail in the Woodward corridor for more than forty years. Few remember now, but Detroit’s much ridiculed People Mover was originally intended as the embryo of such a system, to which it would later be connected. Recently, light rail was thought to be only a matter of time.

Beginning today, tens of thousands of people who use metro Detroit’s suburban bus system will see their options dramatically limited. The cash-strapped SMART system is cutting 15 routes on weekdays, and it’s terminating some routes at Detroit’s city limits.

Megan Owens of the advocacy group Transportation Riders United says the downriver area will be hit the hardest – losing several major routes. "And then really, anyone who’s going to be traveling between Detroit and the suburbs anytime other than rush hours will really be hit very hard by having to transfer to a D-DOT bus to continue their trip."

D-DOT is the system that serves the city of Detroit, and has its own set of problems. Declining tax revenues due to drops in property values, fewer federal dollars, and the SMART system’s inability to win concessions from its unions are blamed for the cuts.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

James Hill lives in Detroit and uses the bus every day. And he says he’s learned to dedicate hours to getting from point A to point B.

People who need to catch the bus to work or school in Detroit are in a jam. On any given day, about half the city’s buses are parked, waiting for repairs. That, in turn, means hours-long waits at bus stops.

Hill said he took the bus to visit his son in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He left the hospital at 4 o’clock in the afternoon…

Matt Picio / Flickr

We reported last week about the federal money coming to the state, and Sarah Hulett reported on more details released yesterday.

In case you missed it, here's how the $46.7 million from Federal Transit Administration’s Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair grant program is broken up in Michigan:

fabi k / Creative Commons

Nine public transportation systems in Michigan have won competitive grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grants announced Thursday total nearly $44 million.

Mysid / Wikipedia

Southeast Michigan’s regional bus system is getting ready to make massive cuts to its service.

Declining tax revenues due to drops in property values, fewer federal dollars, and the SMART system’s inability to win concessions from its unions are the reasons behind the cuts.

The system is looking at a 22 percent cut to its service, affecting 30 of its 53 routes.

"Certainly this is a tragedy," said SMART’s Beth Gibbons. "It’s not going to be easy for the thousands of people who depend on our service every day to get to work and to school."

Public hearings on the proposed cuts are scheduled for the first week of November. The changes could take effect as early as December 12.

About 40,000 people a day ride SMART busses.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Grand Rapids and 5 surrounding cities are voting Tuesday on a millage increase to support expanded public transportation.

Lizbeth Espinoza and Michael Tuffelmire walk into small Mexican super market in the mostly-Hispanic Roosevelt Park neighborhood. Tuffelmire says many people here aren’t aware there are any other elections but the big one in November.

That's part of the reason they’re driving around a passenger van, picking up anyone who needs a ride to vote.

“I’m just trying to just, no matter what people want to vote, I’m trying to make easier access for them," Tuffelmire said.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It appears rising gasoline prices are getting more people to ride public transportation in Michigan.  But that’s a double edged sword for local bus systems.  

It will be a few months before all the numbers are in, but Clark Harder with the Michigan Public Transit Association says, demand for bus service is up.   He says more and more people are opting to take the bus, because it’s getting too expensive to fill up their own gas tank. 

femaletrumpet02 / flickr

Bus service has been disrupted in Detroit today, with dozens of drivers calling in sick to attend a labor rally in Lansing.

Lovevett Williams is with the city of Detroit’s Department of Transportation. She said the sick-out cut bus service by about 20 percent.

An anti-Muslim group might be closer to getting its message on the sides of city buses in Detroit.  The American Freedom Defense Initiative bought 4 thousand dollars worth of  advertising on Detroit buses last April.  But the bus system objected to language used on the posters, which talked about ‘Leaving Islam’.