Express bus service from Ann Arbor to Ypsi set to debut in 2024

In 2024, a new high-capacity bus service on Washtenaw Avenue will shave 11 minutes off the travel time between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor — and potentially reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton per day. The planned expansion of service has been made possible by a $2.1 million award to the TheRide from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) as part of the federally funded Carbon Reduction Program.

“Washtenaw is a critical corridor for the community,” says Gretchen Johnson, senior project manager of planning and innovation for TheRide. “There’s a lot of potential to improve transit options other than single-occupancy vehicles on the corridor.”

The new bus line will connect Blake Transit Center in Ann Arbor and the Ypsilanti Transit Cetner, departing every half hour with just four stops in between. The Route 4 bus, which covers the same route, currently runs every eight minutes and takes 41 minutes each way.

“The bus itself will essentially be an overlay on top of the existing service on Washtenaw, so the frequency of the whole corridor will increase,” Johnson explains. “It’s pretty frequent right now at eight minutes, but should go to something like six with this.”

To start, the new bus service will run on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Johnson also mentions the possibility of expanding to weekend and evening service if the bus line attracts enough riders.

“There’s going to be a lot of effort to set this apart a little bit in terms of branding, marketing, making sure that people know it’s a very different type of service,” Johnson says. “A lot of studies show that the very first, most important kind of design aspect of transit is as fast as possible, reliable, and high frequency. Those are what really attract people from just using their car.”

Johnson says the SEMCOG grant will give TheRide more flexibility to use funds from the transit millage that Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township voters approved in August. The five-year, 2.38-mil property tax is earmarked for projects such as increasing hours of service and frequency of weekend routes.

The Carbon Reduction Program is part of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and aims to improve air quality by reducing transportation emissions. By increasing the capacity of the corridor and moving people more efficiently, the new bus line has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 1.165 tons per day. That’s the equivalent of 87 single-occupancy vehicles traversing the same stretch of road, or of a round-trip plane ride from Detroit to L.A.

The new bus line comes as part of TheRide 2045, a long-range plan for improving public transit in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. Adopted in July, the plan lays out an ambitious series of goals for the next 23 years: reducing transportation-related emissions by 7-11%, avoiding 6.9 million car trips, and increasing bus ridership by 150-165%, to name a few. Johnson says one of the plan’s major goals is the development of bus rapid transit, complete with dedicated lanes, off-board fare payment, and level boarding.

“We’re really serious about making service as easy and convenient for people as possible,” Johnson says. “This is one huge step forward, so we’re really excited.”

Brooke Marshall is a freelance writer and recent transplant to Belleville. She first visited Ann Arbor on a cross-country bicycle tour; you can read that story (and more!) in her first book, "Lucky."

Photo by Doug Coombe.