As gas prices hit $4 a gallon and beyond, SMART's ridership is hitting record numbers, averaging more than 44,000 passengers a day in April.
"With gas prices at an all-time high, people are choosing to park their cars in the driveway and ride the bus," says Hayes W. Jones, general manager for SMART. "We haven't seen ridership like this since the early eighties."
Actually, it's the highest ridership the authority has experienced since forming in 1967. Weekend service is at its peak and overall ridership is up more than 6.5 percent over the same time last year.
Ridership is going up so quickly, SMART is expanding service on the Woodward and Gratiot routes. Its riders are reporting that both routes are so crowded at peak times that many buses quickly become standing-room only.
Total weekly ridership, including weekends and small bus service exceeded 250,000 in April. Weekend ridership is also experiencing record numbers with a 14 percent bump on Sundays and a 10.4 percent increase on Saturdays over this time last year.
"For many families, having one car, let alone two cars is a luxury in this economy," Jones says. "The price of gas is a huge deficit for most families. We charge $1.50 a trip."
SMART is also working to make taking the bus more efficient for it riders by partnering with Google Transit to provide an easy-to-use trip planner on SMART website. The site also includes a series of “How to Ride the Bus” videos that explain how to load bikes, how to pay the fare and how to find routes.
This is all coming on the heels of serious talk of creating heavy and light rail lines in southeast Michigan. SEMCOG is aiming at establishing a commuter rail line connecting Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit in 2010. The city of Detroit and a band of private investors are also working on plans to create a light rail up Woodward Avenue in the city.
Writer: Jon Zemke