Detroit Transit Alternatives Map: Toward Public – Private Partnerships


I’ve been thinking about transportation in Detroit and how a number of alternatives to DDOT and public transit have been blossoming. Most recently I was surprised and excited by the University of Michigan (UM) launching a new, free shuttle service between its Ann Arbor campus and the UM Detroit Center in Midtown. The plan will also include shuttle routes to Eastern Market, Cultural Center, Southwest, and Downtown.

Most recently, the city has seen the development of The Detroit Bus Company which launched to “reinvent” how Southeastern Michigan gets around by offering rides to students to get to after school programs and helping suburbanites get into the city without a congested commute. Before there was the Detroit Bus Company, the College of Creative Studies was running a free shuttle for students around the city. A few years ago Wayne State University (WSU) teamed up with DMC and Henry Ford Health System to create the Midtown Connection Shuttle, which can take you from DMC through WSU’s campus with connections to Henry Ford through New Center. (When writing this the Detroit Bus Company didn’t have regular routes posted on its website, so those were not included on the map.)

The transit alternative giant in Detroit is Quicken Loans. CEO Dan Gilbert has been a huge supporter of the new M1 Light Rail plan along Woodward Avenue, launched a company-wide bike share program this year, and has been operating the Opportunity Detroit shuttle buses for employees. This private shuttle system is the largest alternative transit system in Detroit even though it is only focused Downtown and Midtown.

Additional transit alternatives have been enacted by various organizations to help shuttle senior citizens to farmers markets, to get clients to medical appointments, and to take congregations beyond their neighborhood boundaries. An idea in the vein of many transit alternatives is the HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cleveland, funded by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital, it is designed to help patients get to appointments by offering a regular and reliable transit to the health center. This seems like a perfect model that could be replicated in Detroit where the health systems already have their own shuttle networks in place and need to help patients get from the dense corners of the city to the center where the health systems are located. If UM is willing to fund a route to connect Ann Arbor and Detroit, might they be interested in funding a BRT along Michigan Avenue? MSU could take Grand River Avenue and maybe Quicken Loans could get talked into covering Lafayette Ave. and Fort St. Then DMC and WSU could partner to run BRT along Warren Avenue and Henry Ford could cover Grand Boulevard.

There are limited options for funding public transit, but there are plenty of social good and private interests that could make public transit a reality in Detroit. A working transit system helps patients get to appointments on time, helps employees have a happier commute without car congestion, and also helps residents get around and visit the businesses potentially partnering to fund the transit system.


3 thoughts on “Detroit Transit Alternatives Map: Toward Public – Private Partnerships

  1. Nice map. I would note that private business and public transit have often been intertwined in various ways, including in Detroit. Quite frankly, the private bus networks that we see all around downtown Detroit are a massive waste of money compared to an effective, comprehensive public transit system, as area businesses have historically recognized.

    The Detroit Department of Street Railways was created after Progressive-era mayors won a fight to take ownership of the city’s private transit monopoly. Ford Motor Company appointees, who had an obvious interest in getting their (then mostly car-less) employees to work, helped to govern the DSR for many years, and the DSR’s 1929 subway proposal would have linked the downtown area with the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn. Detroit residents voted it down as a clear-cut case of corporate welfare – for a “runaway plant,” no less.

    More recently, the People Mover was resurrected from the ashes of a regional transit plan after downtown developers Max Fisher and Alfred Taubman persuaded President Reagan to provide funding for its “downtown circulator” component.

    It is important to emphasize that Cleveland’s HealthLine is not primarily funded by the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospital, but by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. The two institutions simply kicked in some extra money for branding after development of the line was already underway. The RTA and the federal government put up the money for construction.

    The M-1 streetcar proposal is an unusual case of a transit project whose capital costs are mostly covered by private businesses, but a number of metro Detroit businesses already help to subsidize the cost of public transit for their employees. In Ann Arbor, UM and the Downtown Development Authority’s GetDowntown program help to cover the cost of employee transportation on the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

    The University of Michigan, in fact, has stated that it would subsidize employee ticket costs of an Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line for at least several years. It might be helpful for Beaumont, DMC, Wayne State and other institutions to take a similar tack on the proposed Woodward Avenue bus rapid transit line between Detroit and Pontiac.

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