It arguably hasn’t been this easy or convenient to ride public transit in metro Detroit in decades. That isn’t saying much, however, since transit in the region is severely underfunded.
But service has been steadily improving of late and ridership grew in 2018. So if you haven’t ridden the bus in a while (or ever), now is the time to start. And we’ve got you covered with all the details you need to know about buses, streetcars, and rental bikes in Southeast Michigan.
For this guide, we’re including the counties under Regional Transit Authority—Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, and Washtenaw. To make it easier, we’ve compiled a list of what each one costs, how to pay, and where each mode travels.
A brief history
The first streetcars in the region began operation in 1863 and were pulled by horses. The system became fully electric by 1895 which allowed for further travel to the surrounding cities.
Between 1900-1922, southeast Michigan had regional transit. The Detroit United Railway (DUR) operated streetcars in the city and interurbans in the country to cities as far away as Port Huron, Flint, and Toledo. For 30 years, eight Detroit Mayors fought to gain control of the all streetcar lines in the city in an effort to end the streetcar monopoly and keep fares low.
In 1917 a study for a Rapid Transit System was submitted which called for 65 miles of combined underground downtown subways with surface or elevated rail lines further out in the city to relieve downtown traffic congestion. They advised that the system be run by the DUR; however, Detroit’s mayor, James Couzens, had vowed during his campaign to end DUR control in the city so when city council approved this new system, he vetoed it. The vote to override the veto failed by one, ending Detroit’s chance at having subway and light rail.
The DUR folded in the 1930’s because of the growing popularity of cars, and the new manager of the DSR began a campaign to replace streetcars with buses, phasing them out by 1956. There have been numerous studies and recommendations for regional transit over the years but nothing took hold until Michigan passed the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act in 1967. SEMTA was created but couldn’t leverage taxes to buy the DSR, so the city of Detroit created the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) in 1974.
The systems were never meant to remain separate but with a growing city-suburb divide, a consensus to fund one unified system never took hold. A ballot initiative to fund a comprehensive regional transit system through a millage failed in 2016. The Regional Transit Authority is currently developing a new transit plan, which could go up for a vote on the 2020 ballot.
The current state of commuting
Most metro Detroiters have a pretty daunting daily commute.
According to SEMCOG, Southeast Michigan workers are far more likely to commute to different cities and counties than stay in the same city they live in for work. On average, car commuters spend 24.4 minutes getting to work and nearly 24 percent of metro Detroiters have a commute over 50 miles long.
Ann Arbor-based blogger Mark Evans created a mesmerizing map visualizing commutes all over the country, including southeast Michigan. Much of this travel is done on highways and across places where transit doesn’t run due to opt outs and funding. Buses are still very useful for some commuters and students, and for reaching downtowns without the cost and hassle of parking a car.
The Motor City, one of the poorest big cities in the country, also has some of the highest car insurance rates, which makes the prospect of getting a car that much harder. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer singed a car insurance reform bill in June that will hopefully reduce rates.
The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) provides bus service throughout Detroit and a few suburbs. It consists of ten 24-7 Core Routes, two additional 24-7 routes (8 Mile & Dexter) as well as 30 Local, Crosstown, and Express Routes. Customer service number is 1-313-933-1300. System Map. Downtown Map. Schedules.
DDOT and SMART have recently instituted a new unified payment system called Dart that eliminated transfer fees between the two systems (and, starting October 1, the QLine). It also launched an app that allows users to purchase transit passes for a 15 cent convenience fee.
The new rates are as follows:
Established in 1967 as SEMTA, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) operates Fixed Route, Connector, and ADA paratransit services in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties since 1989. Customer service number is 1-866-962-5515. System Map. Midtown Map. Downtown Map. Schedules.
In addition to the unified fares, SMART has several other options for monthly and value passes, as well as a “park and ride” and connector service, a curbside pickup for people with disabilities. See the full list of fares here.
SMART FAST Bus
Powered by SMART, FAST (Frequent Affordable Safe Transit) connects the suburbs to downtown Detroit seven days a week operating on Gratiot (23 Mile to downtown Detroit), Woodward (Pontiac/Troy to downtown Detroit), and Michigan Avenue (Detroit Metropolitan Airport to downtown Detroit). Customer service number is 1-866-962-5515. Downtown Map. FAST Michigan Map. FAST Woodward Map. FAST Gratiot Map. Schedules.
Fares are the same as regular SMART buses. See above.
Windsor Tunnel Bus
Cash or pass only fare box. Buy in person here.
TheRide (Ann Arbor/Ypsi)
Established in 1969, TheRide operates 36 fixed routes in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, three express routes in Canton, Chelsea, Ypsilanti Township, and connects to Detroit Metropolitan Airport via AirRide service. They also have A-Ride for seniors and people with disabilities. Customer service number is 1-734-996-0400. System Map. Ann Arbor Map. Ypsilanti Map. Schedules.
Other discounted passes are available. Some schools and businesses cover fare costs for students and employees.
Detroit People Mover
Established in 1987, the Detroit People Mover is an elevated rail which makes 13 stops in 16 minutes in a clockwise one-way loop around downtown Detroit. Convenient for sports fans and convention goers at TCF Center, the People Mover connects to hotels, offices, theaters, Rosa Parks Transit Center, and the sports district. Station Guide. Station Art Guide. System Map.
Cash or pass at turnstile. Buy passes online.
- Monday - Thursday: 6:30 a.m. - Midnight
- Friday: 6:30 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.
- Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.
- Sunday: Noon - Midnight
Established in 2017, the QLine streetcar operates between downtown Detroit and Grand Boulevard along Woodward Ave serving downtown, parks, theaters, arenas, colleges, museums, and businesses. Customer service number is 1-313-528-3044. System Map.
Starting October 1, the QLine will be a participating system on Dart payment.
The bikes are meant for 30-minute rides to and from destinations; additional charges get added on the longer the ride.
Passes can be bought online, through an app, or at the station. Cash can be used to buy a pass at CVS, Family Dollar, or 7-11 stores.
Mogo also has a $5 Access Pass for individuals with Food Assistance, Cash Assistance/Family Independence, Medicaid, Health Michigan Plan, Children’s Special health Care Services, and Child Care Assistance.
MoGo has also recently started a partnership with Lyft to get riders to the last part of the journey that might be too far from the bike stations.
Wheelhouse Detroit (Seasonal) Riverwalk. This company offers bike rentals, service, and tours.
Scooters came to Detroit in 2018 and have become quite popular. Users need a smartphone to access the apps.
Rates: $1 to ride, then $0.15 per minute
Taxis are also common in Detroit. Riders can use credit or cash.
Comprehensive info on maps, fares and schedules can also be found at www.transitguidedetroit.com