The Huron-Clinton Metroparks and SMART will launch a year-long collaborative experiment to offer transit to Lake St. Clair Metropark next month.
The Metropark Express program will leverage the transit agency’s SMART Flex program to give riders on-demand service between a bus stop at 15 Mile and Gratiot and several locations within the Metropark. SMART Flex is a mobile app-based service that allows users to schedule a ride in areas of Dearborn, Troy, Pontiac, and along Hall Road.
Nina Kelly, chief of planning and development for HCMA, told Planet Detroit the project evolved from a transportation planning grant which allowed the agency to study ways to increase equitable access to its park system via public transportation.
“Lake St. Clair was the lowest hanging fruit because of its proximity to existing SMART fixed-route lines,” Kelly said. “The hope is eventually we will be able to expand the service to other parks.”
According to planning consultant Eric Dryer with OHM Advisors, the study identified Lake Erie Metropark and Delhi as prime candidates for future transit access using micro-transit connected with existing fixed routes. The Metroparks located further away from established fixed routes, like Kensington and Stoney Creek, will be harder to serve with micro-transit, Dryer added.
The 15-Mile and Gratiot bus stop sits at the convergence of four fixed routes, including 563 FAST Gratiot. “So we can get a lot of people coming from different areas,” Dryer told Planet Detroit.
Dryer convened HCMA and SMART staff to discuss leveraging the SMART Flex program to test transit access to LSC Metropark. SMART and HCMA will collaborate on marketing and track ridership during the pilot. “We can use the lessons from this pilot to try to expand this service out into other areas,” he said.
Kelly said HCMA has requested that SMART add bike racks to the SMART Flex vehicles (they are not available right now). Plans include promoting the service as a shuttle during high-traffic special events and offering incentives to riders.
A property tax millage paid by all residents of Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, Livingston, and Wayne counties partially funds the HCMA parks system. The millage generates more than $33 million in revenue, accounting for more than half of the system’s operating budget. There is currently no transit access to any of the system’s 13 parks, including more than 25,000 acres.
Megan Owens, Executive Director for Transit Riders United, lauded the plan.
“[HCMA] are trying to think through who are some of the non-traditional audiences, and how can they make sure to be serving them,” Owens told Planet Detroit. “Anyone in the region can get on a SMART Fast bus and take it up Gratiot, get off at 15 Mile, get to the park, and spend four or five hours at the beach.” Owens estimated it would take about an hour for a rider from Detroit to get to LSC Metropark using the service.
Beginning Sept. 3, park-goers can use the mobile app or call 734.212.8429 to schedule a ride between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Users of the service can expect a 15-20-minute wait time between call and pickup. Riders pay a $2 per ride fee each way — kids under five are free, and reduced fares are available for seniors (65+) and people with disabilities. Vans accommodate up to five people and are wheelchair accessible. HCMA will waive park entrance fees. The pilot will end on September 5th, 2022. Learn more here.