Plan would expand SMART Bus services in Wayne County; how do voters feel?

Posted at 5:52 AM, Jun 05, 2024

WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — Connecting Southeast Michigan to better public transportation has been a struggle over the years, but there's a new push to get SMART buses up and running in more Wayne County communities.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans wants voters to decide whether or not to connect all 43 Wayne County communities to SMART. Right now, there is an opt-out option for certain communities, so if it does happen, there's a chance those communities could see their taxes go up.

"Is this something you'd vote against?" I asked Jacque Martin-Downs.

“I’d probably be against it, our taxes are hugely high," Martin-Downs said.

"I definitely believe in more public transportation that’s a little more seamless," Sue Taylor added.

Jacque and Sue have been neighbors in Northville for the last 12 years, but have known each other for 25. While they have a lot in common, their viewpoints differ on SMART bussing.

Right now, Northville is one of about 18 communities that currently opt out of the transit system. That means no SMART Bus taxes, but also means no buses rolling through the area.

“I think if it where for the better good I would be less concerned, because I try think globally rather than just for me, as long as we can afford it and it benefits the greater good," Taylor said.

“I’m very prejudice against anything that is going to bring in more taxes," Martin-Downs said.

Other opt-out communities in Wayne County include Belleville, Livonia, Plymouth and Van Buren Township.

“There are still major communities that you can’t get to and we don’t have the rapid transit that a lot of other major metropolitan areas have," Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United (TRUE), said.

TRUE is a non-profit organization advocating for more public transportation options in Southeast Michigan.

“What would you say to people in Wayne County that would say, 'Hey, I live pretty far away from Detroit, why would opt in? Why would I have to pay more taxes for a bussing system I’m not really going to take advantage of?'" I asked.

“We all depend on people who depend on transit, even if you don’t personally ride transit. The worker at your kids, the chef at your favorite restaurant, the pharmacy tech that fills your prescriptions," Owens said.

Owens also said the lack of public transit means our area is missing out on major economic development, with companies choosing to go to areas with better transportation, and workers choosing to go to those areas as well.

Right now, it's unclear what the millage to expand SMART would look like, however, Owens tells me this is something that could be voted on as soon as November.

I spoke with other voters in the opt-out communities, who say they still want to see more information before they make up their mind.

“I have to weigh both sides, to see what is the added cost versus the benefit," Marty Cieslak, who lives in Northville, said.

“It depends on the numbers you know, but whether I like it or not, you know they always win, you can cringe about it, you can cry about it, but you are going to bite the bullet," Bernard Hawes, who lives in Canton, said.

The proposed legislation in Wayne County by Evans is similar to what was passed in Oakland County. 57% of people approved the SMART expansion in November 2022.