A Millennial Mom’s SMART Bus Excursion

It was the first time this metro Detroit mom and her daughters boarded a SMART Bus – but it surely won’t be the last.

My dad once said to me, “I’ve heard that some of the best kept metro Detroit secrets are along the SMART Bus routes.” For me, the best kept secret was how easy it was to navigate the SMART Bus system and take a ride with my three daughters.

I had never considered taking public transportation, to be honest. I have a car, and parking around the area is easy but often expensive. Along with my daughters, who are ages 11, 10 and 6, I decided to give the SMART Bus system a try for a shopping and lunch trip.

Before our trip, I had so many questions: Where would we get on the bus? How would we pay? What if we weren’t on the correct bus and ended up on the other side of town? What about safety?

All of my concerns were for nothing. In fact, the Ride SMART Bus app made it all very easy to navigate. I downloaded the app and used the Trip Planner feature to figure out exactly what time and where we needed to be to catch a ride.

The Ride SMART Bus app gave me the route number and map, where I could find a bus stop and the time the bus would arrive. Armed with SMART knowledge, we proceeded to the nearest stop and waited eight minutes for our bus to arrive.

We had a choice of riding SMART FAST Woodward bus but opted for route 460, the Woodward Local-Somerset. It took us from the Somerset Collection, through Birmingham and into Royal Oak. The bus continued down Woodward Avenue to Detroit, ending near Jefferson Avenue.

Our first ride on Route 460

When the bus displaying our route number came near, I signaled to the driver that we wanted to get on. He stopped and we boarded the bus. I wanted to be prepared and have a smooth ride so I checked the fare in advance and also learned the bus would accept coins, $1, $5 and $10. It was$2 for me and 50 cents for each of my children to ride one way, so I used a $10 bill and the change was provided on a SMART fare card. That actually made paying on the return trip much simpler – just swipe and ride.

The bus was empty, so my kids selected seats toward the back. The seats were higher in the back than near the front, like stadium seating, so the girls could see out of the windows. As we proceeded through the route, about a dozen other riders hopped on and off the bus during our half-hour trip. We saw all sorts of people riding the bus—from those who appeared to be dressed for business to those who seemed to be ready to find a stop and explore the area. There were young adults all the way up to elderly riders.

As we proceeded through the streets of Birmingham, I noticed all the shopping and restaurants that I don’t notice when I’m driving. The kids pointed out places they wanted to visit along the way. I was able to give them a “tour” of the things I did the area when I lived nearby—all things that would have been impossible if I were driving.

We saw the proper “exit etiquette,” which is to pull the cord to indicate you would like off the bus at the next stop, and how easily other people moved on and off the bus.

By the time we got to our destination, we knew exactly what to do. We pulled the cord and exited the bus with other riders getting off at our stop. We weren’t far from where we wanted to shop, so we walked the block-and-a-half to our destination. When we were finished, we checked the Ride SMART Bus app, noted the bus’ next departure time from the nearest stop and made our way over to wait for our return trip. We waited for about seven minutes.

That time, we were old pros. We got on, paid, sat, rode, signaled to get off, exited and made it back to our car in no time.

Endless possibilities

My kids thought it was the coolest thing we’ve done all summer. Their favorite part: Picking their own seat and being able to see so much stuff outside of the bus.I was surprised at how easy the entire process was, the cleanliness of the bus and how friendly the driver was to everyone.

Safety was never a concern. The driver was nice and made us feel welcome on the bus. The other riders were courteous and the security cameras on the bus made me feel like another set of eyes was on my family. All of the drivers have nearly 280 hours of training and the buses receive plenty of preventative maintenance. As for our personal safety, each bus was equipped with cameras and the buses also have a communication system, GPS and location-tracking technology.

I thought about all of the possibilities for using SMART buses around town. We could take a trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, or ride down Jefferson Avenue to the Renaissance Center and the River Walk. On a busy day, parking at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak can be tricky, but the bus stops right nearby.

For commuters, there are routes to get them from the suburbs to jobs around the city. In the process we save time, money and help the environment. Fewer cars on the roads means fewer pollutants in the air. All SMART buses are biodiesel powered, and with a few hybrid electric buses to further reduce carbon emissions.

There are 47 bus routes and over 5,300 bus stops in the metro Detroit area, and more than 2 million metro Detroiters live within a quarter-mile of a SMART Bus stop. There are plenty of routes to get riders where they need to go!

Now that I have the Ride SMART Bus app and understand how to use the buses, I can easily see how we could navigate to some of our favorite destinations using public transportation. Next time, maybe we’ll even try a route with a bus transfer.

For more information, or to plan your SMART Bus ride, visit the SMART Bus website or download the Ride SMART Bus app.


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