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Here’s why many people won’t use public transit in Detroit

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Michelle & Chris Gerard

Last week, we asked our readers to chime in on using public transit in Detroit. Many people are excited about the QLINE opening, while others are quick to point out that there are buses that cover the same route, and maybe shouldn’t spending go elsewhere?

Also, many readers are fans of the Reflex and SMART buses. And many still want a cohesive rail line. We’re hopeful for that, too.

We received some particularly thoughtful responses, both on our article page and on Facebook. Considering a lot of energy is going into creating more transit options in Detroit, we thought it was worth mentioning a few of the trends that we saw.

It’s not convenient

Basically a lot of comments noted that we have the worst transit system in the country. It’s hard to disagree with that. Convenience is one of those issues. The metro area is huge, and the buses don’t really get residents where they need to go in a timely manner.

MIGuy1999 says,

“Taking the bus across county borders is extremely inefficient. If you’re trying to get from the suburbs to the city, or vice versa, you have to get off at 8 mile (with the exception of RefleX/Some SMART routes). If the two bus systems could be integrated so that, for example, the Dexter Route could go north past the Northland Center, that would be a first step.

Also, there is no rapid transit in the region. Even with traffic, it is often quicker to take a personal vehicle than a bus. Finally, there is a notion that people who can afford cars have no business riding buses, as opposed to other cities where people from all walks of life take public transit.”

D Pare agrees, saying,

“...I live in one of the northern suburbs, but within walking distance of my downtown. If I could walk to that downtown and easily take a bus/lightrail/whatever into town in a reasonable amount of time then I would do it on a regular basis. However, my only real option is to get in my car, drive to Somerset, take the bus, and then move about using the Q-line/bus/Lyft. This sounds okay and the bus moves rather swiftly, but I still have to get in my car to take me half way there. At that point, I may as well just drive the rest of the way there because I’ll get there sooner and easier.

I’ll reiterate the fact that we have the WORST public transportation system in the world....”

We’re a car culture

In the early 20th century, Detroit was built for cars. Now we’re overloaded with freeways, wide roads, and parking for days. And we are so attached to our vehicles.

DownriverDem says,

“Way before all of us were born, Detroit had mass transit – streetcars & buses. Guess what happened? The Big Three didn’t want us to ride them. They wanted us to use cars. So the money went to roads...”

DGifford5 had a lot of thoughts on all the questions we asked, including,

Will we remain the Motor City? Cars will continue to be a big part of the lives of Detroiters and Metro Detroiters. They are a necessity for many, a convenience, a status symbol and ingrained in us. The majority of Detroit was built around the car and the suburbs continue to design primarily for cars. Are people too attached to their cars? Absolutely. We have accepted them as essential to day to day living despite their monetary cost and loss of life. We are also attached to their convenience.”


When it comes down to it, if you don’t feel safe doing something, it’s probably not a good idea. EighthStreet pointed out a few links to stories about violence on city buses. On Facebook, we received a lot of thoughtful comments (especially from women) about not feeling safe on the bus or in particular bus stops. Yes, there is a perception that it’s unsafe, but if people feel that way, then it still rings true.

A different future for transit?

There’s a lot of momentum towards pedestrian-friendly, mobility-focused transit. MoGo Bike Share is starting, the QLINE is rolling, and maybe the RTA can get back on track and create a better system for southeast Michigan. Until then, CorktownA1 had a suggestion we can get behind:

“I think some type of gondola system on the east riverfront connecting Hart Plaza to Belle Isle would be a cool and popular form of public transportation, with several stops along the way allowing transit. It would be a tourist attraction and serve a purpose, as the east riverfront is undergoing significant investment and increase in population. Additionally, I think there should be a Tram connecting the Hart Plaza area over to Windsor, to allow people to experience a different country without having to get into a car/bus and travel across in the tunnel or bridge. These would be revolutionary for Detroit.”

Yes, let’s get on this. And feel free to continue the discussion below.