Columnist: Rapid transit rolling our way

From the Detroit Free Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder today will announce plans for a 110-mile network of sleek rapid transit buses in metro Detroit, operating within two or three years, that will move people as fast and conveniently as light rail.

A new regional transit authority, made up of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties, will govern the system, paid for, with voter approval, by a $40 increase in vehicle registration fees.

I’ve seen these buses work in Curitiba, Brazil¬† — at one-eighth the cost of light rail — and I know people will use them here once they get a taste.¬† Along with planned light rail on Woodward and a functioning city and suburban bus system, they can make mass transit real in southeast Michigan.

Rapid buses will run on dedicated lanes at about 40 m.p.h.

“People just love these buses because they get them where they’re going as fast as light rail,” SMART General Manager John Hertel told me this morning.

Routes, he said, will include a line from downtown Detroit to Metro Airport and on to Ann Arbor. Other lines will run down Woodward and Gratiot. An east-west route in Oakland and Macomb Counties, including M-59, will help link the four-county region.

Capable of signal control, the buses won’t need to stop for lights. Leaders of all four counties have signed off on the plan, which will dovetail with the Woodward Light Rail Project. Rapid buses won’t run on any part of Woodward served by light rail.

After years of transit dead ends, and now deep cuts in city and suburban bus service, Snyder has helped put some gas in the region’s tank. It’s a day to get pumped, but it would be a mistake to forget about the crisis in basic bus service now afflicting the region’s 150,000 daily bus riders.

At any rate, for light rail or rapid transit bus service to work, an adequate and reliable basic bus service must feed them. And none of this can happen without a regional transit authority. Legislation will be introduced soon to create one, and the region must get behind it after more than a decade of failure.

In Curitiba, Brazil, rapid transit buses move people as smoothly as any light rail or subway system I’ve used. Elevated stations allow passengers to pay before boarding, entering buses on the same level, without stepping up or down. Rapid buses look more like rocket ships than conventional buses.

Even people who wouldn’t think of riding a bus now — and, unfortunately, in southeast Michigan there a lot of them — will find these buses sleek and smooth enough to get out of their vehicles and save some chips, at least some of the time.