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10 ways to improve Detroit’s current public transit system

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Reliability, apps, and reliable apps, please

Photo by Mark Hall

Detroit has been car-dependent for many years, leading to a less-than-stellar public transit system. It has improved greatly over the past few years. DDOT has added many more routes, including 24-hour routes on major roads. The QLINE, while only 3.3 miles, is making it easier to get to popular landmarks, park and ride to major attractions, or get to work along the Woodward corridor.

Still, with the failure of the RTA last year, leaders are working to figure out what might be next in terms of large-scale transit around metro Detroit. In the meantime, we have some suggestions for improvements to the current transit system. Based on reader suggestions from past articles, interviews, and feedback we’ve received, here are ten easy (and not-so-easy) ways to improve how we get around in Detroit. Do you have more suggestions? Let us know in the comments.

  1. A universal fare card. This is what we hear the most in terms of what could make transit easier. Transfers are available for QLINE, Smart, and DDOT, but not a universal fare card. Transit advocate Trisha White says, “One card for all systems, one card to rule them all. As of now, we have to go all the way downtown to the transit center to buy passes or hope we can find a CVS that still has them. And if you lose it, you’re screwed. Modern universal fare cards are available online, you can add fare online, and cancel it if you lose it. Many companies offer a transit benefit in lieu of a free parking spot.”
  2. A monthly pass to cover all forms of transit. This would have to be part of a bigger plan, since there are separate systems, but could add flexibility of travel for visitors and residents.
  3. An app to pay fares. The QLINE is the only system that has this now.
  4. A more reliable transit schedule app. The QLINE is still a new system and making improvements. The DDOT app doesn’t get great reviews.
  5. A direct, reliable, quick, easy way to get to the airport. There is a SMART bus line (Routes 125 and 280), but there needs to be a route from downtown. This is a no-brainer. Visitors flying in shouldn’t have to rent a car to get downtown.
  6. Increased reliability. Each system has made improvements, but reliable, timely service—especially when getting to a job—is key to get more people riding transit.
  7. Improve bus shelters. Waiting out in the cold and rain next to a sign by the side of the road isn’t a good time.
  8. More park and ride lots, since so many commuters live in different cities than where they work.
  9. Run promotions with local businesses or cultural institutions. Show your transit pass, receive a discount.
  10. Add more fun. White suggests Motown Mondays. “DDOT could partner with the Motown Museum to celebrate their big renovation and play Motown music on buses every Monday. There’s something magic about watching strangers of all ages drop their guard and sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” together.”