Farmington talks of opting out of SMART bus system

From The Farmington Observer:

Farmington City Council members voiced strong opinions at a recent study session that paying for the regional bus service is no longer the “smart” thing to do.

That led Mayor Tom Buck to conclude that when the council votes to opt in or out of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation in January, the city may opt out.

“I’m not really sensing a lot of ‘opt in’ energy,” he said.

The discussion came because of recent cuts to service systemwide, including in Farmington and Farmington Hills, by SMART, which serves Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.

Effective Dec. 12, SMART eliminated a route that ran along Orchard Lake, leaving the city with only two routes along Grand River.

The service is paid for through a .59 mill levy. Residents voted almost two years ago to authorize the SMART millage.

“To pay $250,000 for a system that doesn’t go anywhere — I have a real problem with that,” said City Councilwoman JoAnne McShane.

Councilwoman Kristin Kuiken said that with the current system, local riders can’t even get to Park and Ride locations.

“I don’t think this is adequate,” she said. “I’d rather give them a voucher and say here, get a taxi, whatever you need.”

Discussing alternatives, Buck said there has been frustration with getting data from SMART regarding the number of riders from Farmington.

McShane said she’d like to see something included in the water bill, asking residents if they use the SMART system.

“We have no idea who rides the system,” she said.

“I don’t know how you purchase services if you don’t know what you need,” said Councilman Greg Cowley.

Additionally, he said, “what troubles me is there is no guarantee that they won’t cut again next year.”

Alternatives for transit discussed include potentially partnering with Farmington Hills, Livonia and Novi.

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Galvin said that whatever happens, seniors and people with disabilities need to have transportation.

“I think we want a mass transit system,” agreed Buck. “What we don’t want is an inadequate system.”

Some cities, such as neighboring Livonia, already have opted out of SMART. That has created what some call a “hodge podge” when it comes to service, as buses don’t run through those communities.

McShane said that she thinks the city can do better than having the one route supplied by SMART.

“There’s a new business that’s waiting to happen,” she said.

Pastue will return to the council in January with information about potentially connecting with other cities, and more details about Farmington’s senior transportation system.