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Transit In Detroit


Transit In Detroit

A SMART bus operates in downtown Detroit, Michigan on a warm and sunny summer day.

Christopher MacKechnie

Transit In Detroit

Transit in Detroit, MI is currently mostly operated by two distinct agencies. SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) operates primarily in the suburbs, while D-DOT (Detroit Department of Transportation) operates primarily within the city limits. While there is some fare integration between the two, there is little evidence of current cooperation on any other front, including scheduling. Because most transit-dependent people in the Detroit area take both transit systems regularly, the result is long waits for connecting buses.

In addition to the above bus systems, an elevated rapid transit system called the Detroit People Mover operates on a short one-way loop around the downtown area. The Detroit People Mover, widely ridiculed for "going nowhere", uses the same technology as the Scarborough RT in Toronto, ON and the original Skytrain line in Vancouver, B.C.


SMART operates 54 bus routes with a peak vehicle requirement of 237 serving 6,000 bus stops. In 2010, SMART carried over 12.1 million passengers. D-DOT operates 37 bus routes with a peak requirement of 353 serving 6,000 bus stops (many overlap with SMART). In 2010, D-DOT carried over 36.6 million passengers. Both systems on average operate empty much of the time - SMART averages 17.8 trips per revenue hour while D-DOT does better at 34.2. According to its' website 2.1 million people live within 1/4 mile of a SMART bus route, which sounds good until you consider that 3.9 million people live within SMART's service area. One unusual aspect of SMART is that suburbs are allowed to opt-out of collecting the property tax that helps to fund it; as a result, SMART redesigns its routes to avoid entering such communities and when it has no choice it operates express within such jurisdictions.


Like most transit operators, both SMART and D-DOT rely on a variety of governmental funding sources as well as fares to pay for both operating and capital requirements (a href=" http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Funding/a/The-Basics-Of-Transit-Funding.htm"> learn more about how transit is funded ). Operating funding sources are as follows:

  • Passenger fares: SMART and D-DOT fares generate about 13% and 15% respectively of the operating budget
  • Local funds make up about 42% and 40% of the operating budget respectively. SMART local funds come from a small dedicated property tax while D-DOT local funds come from the city of Detroit budget.
  • State funding make up 30% and 32% of the operating budget respectively.
  • For capital funding, SMART relies on the federal government for 85% of their capital budget while D-DOT relies on the federal government for 100%. D-DOT also relies on the federal government for 12% of their operating budget. Local and state funding makes up the rest of the SMART capital budget.



  • Regular Cash Fare - $2
  • Transfer - $0.25
  • Regular 31 Day Pass - $66
  • Regional Pass - $49.50 (Valid on both D-DOT and SMART, but requires an additional $0.50 fare when used on SMART)
  • Regional Pass and Regional Plus Pass (Valid on all buses in metropolitan Detroit without any fare surcharge) - $69.50

D-DOT Fares

  • Regular Cash Fare - $1.50
  • Transfer - $0.25
  • Regular Monthly Pass - $47.00
  • Regular Biweekly Pass - $27.50
  • Regular Weekly Pass - $14.40
  • Regular 5-Day Pass - $14
  • Plus the passes described under SMART Fares, above


Planning is underway for a light rail line extending along Woodward Avenue, the major spine of the city, from the riverfront to the city limits on Eight Mile Road in two phases. The first phase would extend only 3.4 miles from downtown Detroit to the New Center area at West Grand Boulevard. The project is being jointly planned by D-DOT and a coalition of business and civic leaders. As of this writing the federal government was not in support of the plan due to the lack of identified funding to operate the line after it opens. For my comments about this plan, please see here. Because of the reluctance from the federal government, the governor of Michigan is working with civic leaders on a more widespread network of bus rapid transit lines in lieu of the rail line.

A major project that was recently completed was the Rosa Parks Transit Center . The Rosa Parks Transit Center, named after the Civil Rights icon who refused to give up her seat on the bus (by the way, the bus is at the Henry Ford Museum in suburban Dearborn, MI), is a significant improvement over an old transit center at Cadillac Square, although it is not located in the heart of downtown Detroit. For pictures of the Rosa Parks Transit Center please see my page on Michigan transit pictures .


Getting around Detroit without a car, while never easy, has become demonstrably worse in recent years as both systems have experienced significant service reductions. These reductions have primarily been caused by a decline in property tax revenues caused by the steep decline in Detroit housing prices that occurred during the housing crisis in the late zeroes. Interestingly, the possible bankruptcy of the city of Detroit may provide the best hope for improved transit in the region for years, as it may prove to be the impetus for the long-awaited consolidation of D-DOT and SMART. The fact that when combined the two systems have as many buses and carry about as many passengers as carried by the Orange County Transportation Authority in California shows there is latent potential for improved transit in the Motor City.

Ease of getting around Detroit without a car: 2/10.

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