DETROIT (FOX 2) - Buses will soon travel directly to the Detroit Metro Airport from the city as part of a pilot program intended to gauge interest for public transportation in Southeast Michigan.
Overseen by the Regional Transit Authority, the Detroit to Airport Express Service pilot will run up to 16 daily trips between DTW and a stop yet to be determined in Detroit. It's expected to launch at the end of March.
The airport, RTA executive director Ben Stupka says, is the most often-cited destination that people name when they think of a location they'd like public transit to take them to.
"For whatever reason, there is no project that is more important to people than the airport connection," he said.
Besides a car, the only means of getting to DTW is by SMART bus, which makes multiple stops and takes more than an hour to reach the airport. Under the pilot program, which was introduced at a public meeting Tuesday evening, Michigan Flyer buses will travel nonstop to the airport between 3:30 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The buses would travel to both the Evans Terminal and the McNamara Terminal. One-way tickets will cost $15 with discounts expected to be made available when the program begins.
While plans have been announced for designing and building an Amtrak route directly to DTW from Detroit, that kind of project is still years from being completed.
With the help of federal funding, Stupka hopes starting small will help others both recognize the value of public transit while seeing examples of the region trying to boost opportunities to use it.
"I do think we have to show people a little bit more about what regional transit feels like and can look like," he said.
For John Waterman, who serves on the RTA's Citizens Advisory Committee, public transit is about making the community accessible and safe for all groups of people.
"Our society is not accessible if we don't have transit. If you don't have a bus that somebody can take, you don't have an accessible community," he said.
People with cognitive impairments or who need a wheelchair to get around often aren't considered when people talk about public transit, Waterman said. They can learn to do a job and live independently, but failing to provide a means of getting around presents a gap in society, he said.
And when it's improved for one group, others can take part as well.
"That's the amazing thing, right? We're going to make the world a little bit more accessible for someone with a disability and then make it better for you and I," he said. "So we're even getting a kickback, because now that nice pathway to walk down, I can ride my bike down."
RTA received a $2.5 million grant through the federal government's Carbon Reduction Program, which will fund a year of service.
During that time, the RTA plans to collect data on the kinds of people that use the bus to better understand the demand and where it's coming from.
Metro Detroit's bus routes have recently expanded thanks to millage proposals that have funded more reliable service in Oakland County. Federal funding has also been made available to explore expanding passenger rail service between Detroit and Windsor, Canada, as well as two other corridors in Michigan.
Not every detail for the express pilot has been ironed out and more public meetings will take place to gauge the community's interest and to receive feedback. The proposed stop in Detroit is on Washington Boulevard near State Street.
A representative from Hollywood Casino at Greektown also offered the gaming center as a potential bus stop during Tuesday's meeting.
A virtual meeting presenting the same information is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. Find more information here.