Rochester Riders Advocate for Transit
(Thomas Yazbeck, March 20, 2021)
Rochester, MI – 2022 will be a big year for public transit in Metro Detroit. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) may be taking another shot at putting a regional transit plan on the ballot. SMART’s operational millage will also be up for a vote, as it has been every four years since the 1990s. While 2022 feels far away, the conversation about public transportation in Metro Detroit is already taking off – Oakland County included.
Rochester Hills, with its rolling hills and sprawling subdivisions centered around the compact city of Rochester, doesn’t show up on SMART’s massive system map. Both cities have chosen not to allow SMART to provide its $2 fixed-route bus service within city limits. Despite this, traces of a rich history of mass transit can be found in and around Rochester. The popular Paint Creek and Clinton River trails replaced former rail lines that connected the industrial hub of Rochester with Flint and Detroit. During the early 20th century, the Detroit United Railway’s electric streetcar lines were the nuclei around which many Oakland County communities established themselves and grew.
Since the 1950s, transportation options in Detroit and the rest of America have dwindled, leaving driving alone the dominant mode of travel in most places. An Uber ride across transit-deficient Rochester Hills from Oakland University to Shelby Township could cost $50 or more. Famously, a man from Detroit known in the media as the “Walking Man” walked for miles, rain or shine, to reach his workplace in Rochester Hills. For eligible Rochester area residents, chiefly seniors and handicapped people, a publicly funded shuttle is available. But it requires trips to be booked 3 days in advance and its operational hours and range are extremely limited.
Things don’t have to be so difficult. Last year, I helped found an organization called Rochester Riders. Our goal is to open Rochester and Rochester Hills up to forms of transportation that are better for the environment and for people’s wallets, too.
SMART has been working to improve service across its network, including in cities adjacent to Rochester Hills. SMART’s new FAST routes have already attracted users from the Rochester area. Scott Struzik, a resident of Rochester Hills and Rochester Riders member, often uses SMART to get to his financial technology job in Downtown Detroit. In order to utilize SMART, he must first drive to Troy, a SMART opt-in community, and then make the majority of his journey via bus. When I asked him about the value of transit, Struzik responded, “SMART helps me better use my time. My time on the bus is spent responding to emails, doing college work, or watching Netflix. By the time I get home I’ve checked most things off my list and unwound from the workday. That’s not possible when I’m driving a car”.
But not everybody is able to solve the ‘last-mile problem’ by parking and riding. There are approximately 4,000 Rochester area residents who don’t own cars, and plenty more in nearby cities who’d like to be able to visit Rochester for work, shopping, or recreation, but cannot because the city opts out of SMART.
Myself and other Rochester Riders members are working to not only build awareness for public transportation and the vital role it plays, but also to encourage residents of Rochester and Rochester Hills to speak up in favor of bringing bus service to town. We want our City Councils to do the right thing and embrace fixed-route, scheduled transit that everybody can use. If you’d like to help us achieve our goals, visit www.rochesterriders.org and click “Join Us” to get involved.