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First year update: Oakland County mass transit


By Susan Peck


Oakland County voters in November 2022 approved the Oakland County Public Transportation millage, a 10-year, .95 mill tax dedicated to maintaining and expanding public transit services throughout Oakland County. For residents, that translates to a millage funding of 95 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of a home, for 10 years. With a 57.1 percent approval rate, and record-level funding for the largest expansion and improvement of public transportation, the question on behalf of those who supported the millage is what are the advancements in public transportation in Oakland County and southeast Michigan one year after its historical passing?


To better understand the state of Oakland County’s public transit today, we need to take a brief look at the pre-existing challenges plaguing the region’s main transportation system, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) with fixed routes in the suburban areas of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, and the smaller, scheduled, door- to- door transit systems serving the northern suburbs – the Western Oakland Transportation Authority (WOTA), North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA), the Older Persons’ Commission OPC) and the newest People’s Express (PEX) – which are all receiving funding from the millage.


In Oakland County, two principal systemic challenges within SMART have been going on for decades, with far reaching effects. Foremost, funding has been a persistent obstacle for all of southeast Michigan, including Oakland County. SMART relies on a mix of property taxes, federal grants and passenger fares to operate, and the constant budget constraints due to a lack of funding have led to prevailing service reductions and unreliability. More recently, like many transit agencies across the country, SMART faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced ridership and no-show bus drivers that compounded financial woes. And secondly, the truncated nature of the bus routes with “opt out” provisions in 51 communities throughout metro Detroit made it impossible for officials to build a dependable and seamless transit system in Oakland County, with many referring to the gaps as “patchwork” or “swiss cheese” routing, which was inconsistent and unable to meet all of the transportation needs of the community. Coupling these issues with the often times hostile political gridlock that surrounded them, the transit system has stagnated in the past, with limited growth across Oakland County.


Since the approval of the transit millage in November 2022, and funds that began to arrive in February 2023, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said Oakland County has moved swiftly to address past challenges by establishing an initial foundation on which to build a better transit system for county residents.


“We have a four-pronged plan that encompasses operating, maintaining, improving and expanding transit services in Oakland County. The positive turnaround has been made possible because the people wanted the millage, voted for it, they spoke and we listened. Prior to having this on the ballot there were a small number of people preventing the ability of the majority of this county to vote on this issue,” Coulter said.


“Voters in former opt-out communities, as well as those already onboard with SMART, were largely in favor of the millage and its opportunities,” said Kurt Metzger, demographer and founder of Data Driven Detroit. “The highest ‘yes’ votes in the previous opt-out communities were in Novi (58.9 percent), Novi Township (57.9 percent), Rochester (57.8 percent) and Rochester Hills (57.5 percent). On the other end were the communities with the lowest, where voters were convinced that they wouldn’t get their money’s worth out of the proposal. These were led by Rose Township (23.9 percent), Groveland Township (32.2 percent), Brandon Township (33.5 percent) and Lake Angelus (34.7 percent).


“All the current opt-in communities voted strongly for the measure, with the six highest of them, Huntington Woods at 82.3 percent, and Royal Oak, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Oak Park and Pontiac coming in at over 75 percent. At the lower end of those that said yes were Walled Lake, 56 percent and Troy, 56.9 percent.”


The 10-year millage, expected to raise $68 million in its first year, will direct $38 million toward current service, with most of that going to SMART, and more than $20 million toward new services and transit routes, and an additional $7 million towards capital improvements. Roughly 79 percent of the millage funding will go directly to contracted transportation services – SMART, NOTA. WOTA, OPC, and PEX – the rest of the funding will go to administration and other improvements still in development, according to a plan provided by Oakland County. “State funding will also be provided in matching dollars for locally generated revenue with a 30 percent match of the public millage dollars that will allow for expansions of service, deployment of technologies, and leveraging these dollars to pull down even further federal funds for new vehicles, and infrastructure improvements, including improved sidewalks and bike paths to the bus stops, improved bus stop shelters with lighting, heating, WiFi, and more. Previously these funds have been left on the table, which will no longer be the case – in fact we will be working to increase the state and federal funding. Our model of leadership includes total transparency for every nickel spent from the millage, and to account for where it goes,” said Coulter.


“A huge component of phase one of the millage goals is going as promised,” he stated. “New contracts with transit providers that put an end to the opt-outs in Oakland County will be in place by the end of the year, with the majority in place today. Moving forward, we will continue to enhance integrated mobility options between SMART and auxiliary systems – to deliver more rides, with more frequency, that travel, more distances, with the lowest fare sustainability. It’s all about the growth of these services for a growing population who needs it.


“For the first time in history we’ve created a transit division in our Economic Development Department, and named Eli Cooper our first manager to collaborate with transit riders, local communities, and businesses to enhance transit opportunities, as well as to ensure accountability of all millage proceeds,” Coulter said.


Cooper has over 35 years of transportation experience with a career that took him to both coasts and to Ann Arbor, where he was the transportation program manager for more than 17 years.


“I frankly came out of retirement when I read that there was a need for transit leadership in Oakland County after the millage,” Cooper said. “I am an Oakland County resident myself who voted to approve the millage and realized I could put my years of transit planning experience to some very good use here. The first promise of the millage was to ensure that all of the five transit agencies providing service in Oakland County continue to receive funding for the next 10 years to maintain all of the existing services, but also to improve services like extending hours of operation, and closing up all of the gaps in the routes that serve Oakland County, even in areas that have never had fixed route transit services before. We’ve had to go through the federal process to add new routes, which includes holding public hearings regarding the new additions. Goals were for SMART service expansions in Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Farmington Hills, Keego Harbor, Novi, Orchard Lake, Pontiac, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Sylvan Lake, Troy, Waterford, West Bloomfield, White Lake and Wixom. There have been 68 stops added over all of the transit lines, and all SMART buses used currently will be from the existing fleet, and not purchased by the county. The transit division will be reviewing ridership data on a quarterly basis, reviewing contracts on more than an annual basis, and strategizing together with transportation experts, that are first in their field.”


Transit expert Cooper further noted that, “Planning is essential. SMART brought on Michael Baker International, a global leader in engineering, planning and consulting services focusing on transportation issues including design, infrastructure, and climate change mitigation among others, for the SMART mobility program and we are be working with them on a technical committee with a multi-year planning process. I will be strategizing with the Oakland County Transit Ad Hoc Committee that includes vice chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Marcia Gershenson (D-Bloomfield Township) and commissioners Dave Woodward (D-Royal Oak); Ajay Raman (D-Novi); Phillip Weipert (R-South Lyon); Michael Gingell (R-Lake Orion); Brendan Johnson (D-Rochester Hills) – many from the formerly opt out cities.”


With a budget of approximately $350,000 annually, the transit division also includes transit planner Sarah Lagpacan, who specializes in technical geo spatial information and travel patterns, with a third planner to be added later this year.


While hitting the ground running since joining the department, Cooper stated the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the success of transit efforts so far this year: “We are seeing over a 22 percent increase in ridership across all of the systems – SMART, WOTA, NOTA, OPC, PEX, and we expect that to only go up from here.”


Kim Vierner, director of WOTA, stated she has seen ridership more than double with continued expansions of services. WOTA has gone from 150 riders a day to 250, and demand is greater than capacity, with a first-come first-serve basis for reservations, that have to be made at least two days in advance. PEX transit was newly launched this September when the Oakland County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a new $1 million contract to expand this public transportation service that includes seniors, special needs, and general riders in the southwest area of the county including South Lyon, Wixom, Milford Township, Commerce Township, South Lyon Township, the Village of Milford and the Village of Wolverine Lake.

The creation of an unfragmented transit system in Oakland County has planning and transportation experts feeling an optimism that hasn’t been present in the past. ”The ending of the archaic opt-outs is monumental and the most positive thing that’s come from the new millage,” said Joe Grengs, professor of Urban Regional Planning, University of Michigan. “The expanded services are a big move forward towards accessibility for those needing transportation to jobs, schools, medical facilities, daycare and more.” Grengs and Jonathon Levine, professor of Urban Regional Planning also at University of Michigan, co-authored the book, “From Mobility to Accessibility: Transforming Urban Transportation and Land Use.” Grengs explained, “When evaluating any transportation need, it will always be more important to be able to get to your destination than the speed or mode of getting there.”


Amanda Dedrick has special needs and lives at independent living house On My Own of Michigan in Troy. “I work five days a week at Kroger and rely on the bus to get there, but it hasn’t always worked for me in the past because sometimes it doesn’t come, or it comes at a different time and then I’m late for work. I’ve had to take an Uber ride that costs $9 or $10 dollars each way instead of the 50 cents I pay on the bus, and I can’t afford that.”


Dedrick has recently used the SMART Flex microtransit service available in Troy to take her to work, doctor appointments and the hairdresser, with success. Cooper empathized, stating, “Eliminating the opt-out areas and expanding services are the big steps we needed to establish stable and accessible public transit for all that need it. We finally have a mass transit system scheduled for all four corners of the county.”


Levine suggested championing a transportation system in southeast Michigan that moves away from focusing on the movement of cars.


“Focusing only on them misunderstands the purpose of transportation,” he noted. “It should be about access to our destinations of choice with more options for all. We need to address the growing transit needs of southeast Michigan with planning that includes serving the entire lifecycle of a person – from their youth to senior years.”


“The aging population, from 45 years and older, is the largest demographic in Oakland County today with growing transportation needs,” said demographer Metzger. “Michigan has a quarter of its counties with median ages over 50 years, On the other end of the spectrum, younger voters, between 18 and 30, showed up at the Oakland County voting polls in relatively large numbers stating they wanted reproductive rights and transportation alternatives, so they are continuing to speak out about choices that are important to their lives, and public transportation is one of them.”


“There are specialized needs within the lifecycle that call for more nimble, flexible transit options. SMART has been a pioneer in moving forward with flexible transit options such as the call-and-ride, paratransit or smaller vehicles to meet the needs of seniors and those with disabilities but (which is) also used by veterans and anyone living in the outlying areas with less fixed route options,” said Levine. SMART Flex on-demand transportation is available in Auburn Hills, Pontiac, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Troy and Clawson.


Megan Owens, executive director of the Detroit-based transit advocacy organization Transportation Riders United (TRU) supports the focus on microtransit or paratransit options like Flex, “because these smaller systems have vans and smaller buses that are easier to navigate, especially for the 'silver tsunami,' or aging population, and those with disabilities that require a more specialized transit option,” she said. “They are a schedule ahead transport service, with reservations required that provide independence and connection to their community that is vital. And on the other end of transit needs, are the millennials and younger people that are moving away from owning their own vehicles because of financial and environmental reasons, and want options to get to schools, jobs and entertainment destinations.”


Levine said that auto ownership is increasingly becoming a challenge for many because of the skyrocketing costs for not only the vehicle, but also gasoline and car insurance. “In the early 20th century, transportation didn’t even appear in the household budget, as people walked or spent very little on public transport like streetcars, but today it is the second highest item in their budget, second only to housing costs,” he pointed out.


Urban sprawl has continued to be more prominent and something to be addressed for the near and more distant future, as some of the largest industries like e-tail giant Amazon have moved into the available land spaces in the northern suburbs of Oakland County – and with that sprawl has come the necessity for reliable mass transit to those locations. Along with 20 other fulfillment facilities in Michigan, Amazon opened a Robotics Fulfillment Center at 1200 Featherstone Road in Pontiac, in 2021, hiring more than 1,200 employees. The average pay for Amazon warehouse jobs in Michigan is approximately $17 per hour. Alicia Boler Davis, senior vice president of global customer fulfillment for Amazon stated the expansion not only allows them to better serve their customers but also enables them to boost the local economy and drive more job opportunities for job creation. They have created more than 21,000 jobs statewide so far and look forward to continued growth in Michigan. Cooper said, “The warehouse workers filing jobs like these, and others coming in the future, will have to get to and from work in our county and it’s our job to make sure they have transportation to get there.”


TRU has been hosting Transit Tuesday Talks, like the one recently held at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, to educate and motivate the public and civic leaders on key transit issues, emphasizing a call-to-action by contacting local legislators to voice opinions and give feedback. There is a profound need to work on the most basic elements, such as normalizing mass transit and educating the public that has never, or rarely, used public transportation, on how to navigate the different transit systems, how to transfer and schedule a ride, and how to use the new apps. Owens sees it as a sign that public awareness education continues to be effective and that people are thinking in a broader way about mass transit, evidenced by a city like Bloomfield Hills voting for the millage, and ending the opt-outs that they have had for decades in the past.


“It’s simply acknowledging that while you may not want or need to use public transportation yourself, it’s still of great benefit to the entire community, because the many people who do use it every day are people we all depend on, like hospital and nursing home staff, retail workers, restaurant servers, chefs, daycare workers, and more, who are working and benefitting the entire community, and giving everyone a better quality of life,” Owens said.

Funding issues that have historically afflicted mass transportation regionally now show an improvement, according to Dave Woodward, chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, who authored and sponsored the millage proposal.“On average, there is about 50 percent more funding for the transportation service providers to expand capacity beyond what they were currently doing, primarily in the form of adding extended hours and services for NOTA, WOTA and the OPC. These are the specialized and scheduled rides that are so important for the transit dependent. We have put in place three-year contracts with annual renewals with hopes for even more growth.”

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) – the southeast Michigan agency that oversees and provides service coordination for mass transit for Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne counties with SMART and the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), the city of Detroit’s transit system – is lending support to Oakland County by way of creating partnerships with mass transit officials to improve infrastructures and financial support via funding and grant applications.


Theories as to why funding for mass transit has been thwarted in the past in southeast Michigan have been varied. Aside from the political disharmony surrounding it, another theory has been the fact that it has never received ample financial support from some of the largest companies headquartered here, like Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis (Chrysler), something that has typically happened from industry leaders in other larger cities. These corporate contributors usually provide support for the construction or improvement of public transit infrastructure, the development of new transit routes, or initiatives aimed at promoting the use of mass transit. Explained U-M's Levine, “It hasn’t been the case here with the auto industry. Historically they weren’t the biggest champions for mass transit, and that could be because of the auto-centric culture they wanted to support. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a conspiracy, but you could question the amount of financial support that we’ve seen from the auto industry here.”


There has been historical mention of a conspiracy surrounding the automotive industry when it comes to public transit, notably the General Motors streetcar conspiracy in 1949. It involved the conviction of General Motors and related companies that were implicated for monopolizing the sale of buses and supplies to GM-controlled National City Lines and subsidiaries, as well as to the allegations that the defendants conspired to own or control transit systems, in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.


Coulter sees things differently in regards to the automotive industry’s support in the last 20 years. “The lack of support may very well have been there in the past, but in my opinion I’ve seen a positive alignment because they benefit by having the most reliable transit system in place to assure their many workers get to their jobs.”


While the majority of feedback from officials is positive since passage, for the millage, not all voters were happy about its proposed changes. Some rural communities, including Rose, Holly, Brandon, Independence and Addison townships have voiced disapproval, feeling it can be seen as a ‘money grab” for the rural constituencies. Many there feel they already have bus service offered to seniors and disabled residents at a lower cost than what the millage is levying. The issue had divided communities before the millage, particularly in areas where SMART bus service wasn’t offered, including Milford, Novi, and South Lyon. The Auburn Hills City Council voted to effectively withdraw from the bus service in 2022, before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Daniel O'Brien ruled against the city and denied the request to remove itself from the Oakland County Public Transportation Authority, or OCPTA, which oversees the millage that funds the SMART bus system in the county.


Auburn Hills Mayor Kevin McDaniel said the city conducted due diligence to determine if the SMART system was providing for the needs of their community and concluded that the city could create a customized local transit system that would specifically cater to the needs of their residents, at an equal or lesser cost than the SMART millage.


“Our decision to want to opt-out in 2022 came as a result of learning that the SMART system had little ridership in Auburn Hills and that major employers in our city had little or no reliance on the service,” McDaniel said. “We met with the management of SMART and they acknowledged the many flaws in the system and the data they provided confirmed that Auburn Hills received very little benefit in return for the tax revenue our taxpayers were generating and providing to them. Our position was not arbitrary – it was based on a cost-benefit analysis. My opinion will change when we learn that SMART has modified and improved its service levels and begins to offer substantially more ridership services that creates a greater benefit to our community. That won’t happen overnight, but I remain optimistic.”


Voters in the city of Auburn Hills were in favor of passing the mass transit millage, with 63 percent voting for it. Said McDaniel, “The taxpayers have spoken and we accept the results.”


Also contributing to voter dissent is the fact that local transit is funded via property taxes, unpopular with some of the general citizenry. Michigan ranks alone in dependency on this tax to fund public transportation. For example, in the Chicago and Cleveland areas, local transit funds necessary to keep a transit system viable are raised through a local option sales tax, and the same is in place in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Portland uses a payroll tax, and some areas combine local sales taxes, license plate fees and other methods to fund transit. Oakland County residents will not be paying an additional tax to SMART, as the county millage will cover all of its expenses.


County commissioner Woodward, a recent recipient of the National Transit Champion Award, said since the millage approval there has been a shift towards unity and collaborative leadership surrounding the issue of mass transit amongst county politicians. Some that were firmly opposed are now meeting in earnest to help make things work smoothly. Grengs of University of Michigan said political leadership coming out of Oakland County with a prominent voice of support for mass transit is important because it’s a county with lots of jobs, reasonable levels of affluence and clout, and it can affect real positive change.


“We need to keep focused on the dramatically improved social and economic components that the transit expansions will provide our cities, and that includes the importance to align with an economic development strategy making it easy to come in and out of our area for those who work here,” explained Woodward. “The transition to countywide service will enhance mobility options to over 51,000 businesses here that employ over nearly 700,000 people working in large institutions like Beaumont Hospital, Stellantis NV, Great Lakes Crossing, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Oakland University, and St.Joseph Mercy Hospital.”


Data guru Metzger said approximately 400,000 of those workers come to Oakland County from other areas, and particularly for those with minimum or lower paying wages, public transportation options are imperative.


Pontiac Mayor Tim Greimel concurred,“We recently got word that 500 county employees will be moving to a downtown Pontiac location on Judson Street by 2025. This comes on the heels of the new transit options that will be available in Pontiac and surrounding areas and we will be needing the enhanced transportation services to make this work. We are striving to have Pontiac become a transit hub for northern Oakland County as it is intertwined with main routes including M-59, Woodward Avenue, Telegraph and Dixie Highway. There is construction designed to reconfigure the Woodward Loop portion of Woodward Avenue that goes through the downtown area, and the result will be a more pedestrian friendly road, with more accessible bus routes. Future goals are to bring back some signature events and bringing in new ones, adding a vibrancy to the city.”


Oakland University Professor Mark Rigstad, director of the Center for Ethics, believes a strong mass transportation service in a community provides justice and equal opportunity for its members. “Business locations are built around finding an educated and skilled workforce, high performing schools at all levels, and regional transportation. There is hope that increasing transit availability will mean connecting those looking for work with employers who have been struggling to find help. Oakland University is a commuter campus, and many students can only get here by bus or other public transportation – without it their life choices would be limited. There is also a secondary ethical reason for its importance as the use of mass transit is environmentally responsible, lowering our carbon footprint, lessening traffic, and improving air quality.”


While there appears to be a generally positive outlook when it comes to the voter-approved mass transit millage in Oakland County, there are still other issues to conquer in the region.


Other ongoing struggles for mass transit in southeast Michigan, primarily SMART, include hiring and retaining enough drivers to operate vehicles, and these loom heavily in Oakland County. “We can have every other piece in place but if we don’t have the drivers to transport riders we hit an impasse,” said Woodward. “We are putting extreme efforts into recruiting drivers like the recent innovative initiative “Test Drive a Bus' held at M-1 Concourse test driving track in Pontiac to attract new potential drivers and provide a training program. There was a great turnout and response and we will continue programs like that are outside of the box, to recruit.”


The other issue of noncompetitive wages for drivers has been addressed. Bus drivers in southeast Michigan make on average $18 per hour. The pay rates have previously not been uniform across the different systems, causing conflicts with drivers leaving one system to find a higher wage at another. Plans to have a standard pay for all drivers is underway, and there is also a push for hiring more drivers for the microtransit and paratransit vehicles, and adding even more to those fleets. Woodward said the upside is that the smaller vehicle drivers aren’t required to have a commercial driver’s license, the license to operate large and heavy vehicles that transports more than 15 passengers, so hiring requirements are easier to meet.


The ongoing chip shortage that still affects the national supply chain in the automobile industry is creating a challenge regarding the availability of the public transportation vehicles. County executive Coulter said, ”The lead time to order specialized Americans with Disabilities Act-equipped vehicles is the longest, sometimes up to 18 months. We have the resources available to acquire the vehicles – we just need to get the green light from them, we’re ready when they are.”


There are 14 new vehicles in the fleet so far this year, and 13 more ordered but not yet received. Transit director Cooper addressed supply chain challenges at a recent ‘Transit Tuesday Talk” saying, “The expansion is a process, but we want to remain accountable to meet all goals. In regards to adding more vehicles to Oakland County, you can’t get on a bus if the buses aren’t coming out of the factory so these are the kind of things we are working on every day. Each success breeds more success.”


As part of the entire transit system in southeast Michigan, Oakland County has to align with SMART and its collaboration with DDOT to provide a seamless transit for those traveling between the city of Detroit and its suburbs. Without a reliable schedule in place, SMART will have difficulty serving the new bus routes. Cooper and the transit staff will be analyzing the gaps and limits of southeast Michigan’s transit schedules, and develop a plan to provide much more efficient transit, catering to Oakland County’s needs. Dart, a new universal method to pay and ride on both DDOT and SMART fixed routes, allows unlimited rides within the time limit on the pass for $2 per zone, no transfer fees, reduced fees for seniors, people with disabilities, youth ages 6-18, with children under 46 inches are free – all which are easily accessed on the Dart Detroit Transit app.


Looking to the future, there are exciting advancements already on the horizon for Oakland County.


“The rollout of the higher frequency, higher capacity, direct route Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will be further developed with goals of making transportation from Oakland County to downtown Detroit and to Metro Airport faster and more easily accessible,” said Coulter. There is also an app being developed to geo-locate a bus and link it to a location to provide real-times, and connect riders with all options of the transit system. There are plans to add on-board digital signage to provide route, weather, and other information, to offer a better riding experience.”


“For instance there will be a digital display screen at the bus stop that will show real-time arrivals. There will also be further testing of the four electric vehicles already purchased, and experimenting with self-driving vehicles, and we will continue to incorporate efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles into our future fleet,” Cooper added.


Environmental responsibility is an important part of Oakland County’s future as officials support the transition to low/zero emissions transit vehicles and carbon neutrality. There is a State of Transit event scheduled in January 2024, where area transit leaders, including those from Oakland County, will address the climate component of mass transit.


Looking back over the first year after the millage there is evidence pointing to success regarding several issues that contributed to the transit system in Oakland County operating below commuters’ expectations in the past. Funding issues and political deadlock that centered around what Metzger called an “L .Brooks Patterson versus Coleman Young issue that kept Oakland County isolated and segregated from expanded mass transit,” have seen a positive shift with current leadership. With goals met by the end of the year to complete the first ever, reliable, gap-free transit system throughout Oakland County, this changes the face of businesses and people living and working here.


Said Woodward, “It is about thinking of the needs of the community as a whole, but it’s also about the importance of mass transit for each individual. We want to make sure there is never another 'Walking Man' story in Oakland County, like 56 year-old James Robertson, who for years had to walk 21 miles to work at Schain Mold &Engineering in Rochester Hills, from Detroit, having to endure snow storms, a mugging, and walking along Crooks Road in the dark because of the opt-out cities like Rochester Hills, prior to the millage. We’re proud to say we’ve made it our first priority to put a transportation route together that makes what happened to Mr. Robertson never happen again to anyone in Oakland County.”

 

The new and extended SMART transit routes


In Bloomfield Hills there will be new routes 450 Woodward Local and 462 FAST (express service connecting to downtown Detroit) on Woodward Avenue near Long Lake Road.; Novi and Wixom routes 305, 740, and 805 will be extended to serve those communities; Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake and Keego Harbor route 851 will receive a three mile extension to serve commuters; and the newest Pontiac and Auburn Hills 759 Highland-Oakland University, and 492 Rochester.


The new hours for SMART routes are as follows: Route 450 Woodward Local runs hourly Monday through Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and every other hour on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with stops every quarter mile through Bloomfield Hills. 462 FAST Woodward runs hourly from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and every other hour on Sunday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Grand River: The route was extended to Wixom and realigned to Grand River between Telegraph and 7 Mile. It operates Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The route has a 60-minute frequency with destinations such as the Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi Town Center, Wixom Meijer, Sam’s Club and Ascension Hospital; Route 740 Twelve Mile route was extended to Wixom on weekdays and Saturdays. Operating hours are from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday with shorter trips from Royal Oak to Roseville on Sunday. New destinations include Twelve Oaks Mall, West Oaks Center, Ascension Hospital, and Wixom Meijer.


In addition to new SMART routes, NOTA, OPC and WOTA will offer a menu of mobility options that will expand access and increase efficiency. A summary of the biggest changes includes that OPC will extend its service hours to 8 p.m. with more destinations; NOTA will hire additional staff and improve the parking lot to accommodate new transit vehicles, fuel centers and electric vehicle charging centers; WOTA will extend service hours until 9 p.m. and standardize fares along with all of the transit systems to $2 per stop and make low income riders eligible. Both WOTA and NOTA will hire mobile mechanics to keep more vehicles on the road. Initial driving boundaries for PEX are as follows: The northern boundary is M-59/Highland Road, southern boundary is 7 Mile Road, the western boundary is U.S. Route 23, and the eastern boundary is Drake Road. 

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