Jumping on the bus in Detroit

When I tell people I want to try living car-free, they are skeptical. And then when I tell them I’m going to try it in Detroit, they all but say it’s impossible. Sure, Detroit has its challenges (and public transportation is certainly one of them) but what city doesn’t? To be fair, I have relatively easy access to a friend’s vehicle when my timely arrival is crucial (i.e.: job interviews) but for the most part I’m holding myself to bus-only travel in the Motor City.

This week I was tired of scrambling for quarters at the bottom of my purse, so I walked over to the new Rosa Parks Transit Center and purchased a weekly pass for $14.40. Considering I already used it three times today, I think it will prove to be a good investment (as a regular bus fare would run me $1.50). This new transit center is great; there are 13 docks with electronic signs listing the upcoming bus departures and times, as well as the current time and any important travel advisories. This is also the downtown drop-off point for the Megabus and SMART buses, which are shuttles that run to and from the suburbs. In addition to the arrival and departure docks, the Rosa Parks Transit Center also consists of an indoor complex with a ticket window, bus schedule brochures, and a waiting area.

The majority of my bus rides thus far have gone by without a hitch. Well, there was that one time last week when the 53 heading north on Woodward stopped abruptly about three blocks from my destination. After five minutes or so, passengers (me included) began to stir impatiently. After a lethargic game of telephone ended where I was sitting in the rear, everyone already knew that the bus had broken down. Unconvinced by the driver’s reassurance that the mechanic “would be here in a minute,” I disembarked and walked the rest of the way to work. I’d say I got $1.25 out of my $1.50 bus fare that day.

Then there was the time a few months ago when I needed to get back downtown from Café con Leche in Southwest Detroit. Detroit’s Department of Transportation website gave me a bus route and pick-up location at a nearby intersection, which I thought would be easy enough to figure out. When I got to the cross streets as directed, however, I realized that the bus signs were not marked with route numbers; I had a total of eight signs to chose from! As I narrowed it down to two possible stops (after using my questionable sense of direction and gauging the cardinal points by the positioning of the sun in a dreary, overcast November sky) I realized that Detroit’s public transportation system had some work to do. Then, to top it off, my bus pulls up, unmarked. Yep, there was no indication that the bus at the curb was in fact the eastbound 27, until such information was confirmed by the bus driver.

Like I said, there is work to be done.

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