Wayne County board OKs SMART millage for ballot in opt-in communities

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A day after Oakland County commissioners moved toward a countywide transit millage, officials in Wayne County on Thursday took a transit-related vote of their own.

The Wayne County Transit Authority approved placing a renewal of the four-year Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation millage on the Nov. 8 ballot for communities that are part of the SMART system. The vote was 7-0, with two members absent.

The measure, at just under 1 mill (0.994), would raise about $20.2 million in its first year, according to information from the county. SMART provides bus and other transportation services for communities in Wayne as well as Oakland and Macomb counties; the city of Detroit is primarily served by the Detroit Department of Transportation.

Authority Chairman Assad Turfe, who is also Wayne County chief of staff, provided a statement noting the vote and looking toward the future.

“Today the Wayne County Transit Authority voted unanimously to place the renewal of the SMART millage on the November ballot,” according to the statement from Turfe. “Once renewal of the millage is successful, it will be essential that we come together as a county and region to discuss the future of regional transit."

The decision in Wayne County followed an Oakland County vote Wednesday evening to approve putting a 10-year countywide transit millage question on the ballot and a vote by Macomb County commissioners in July to put a five-year millage request for SMART service on the ballot there, both for 0.95 mills. The millage in Oakland County would fund other transit services in the county in addition to SMART and would add more than $20 million per year for new services, marking a significant expansion of public transportation, if voters approve it, in a region which many advocates say falls short on transit.

More: Oakland County commissioners OK countywide transit millage for ballot

More: Countywide transit millage moves closer to reality in Oakland County

More: Macomb County voters will get to decide fate of SMART transit millage

More than 50 metro Detroit residents and politicians took part in a lively public comment period at the council chambers in Pontiac. The passionate debate likely foreshadows an interesting election campaign ahead.

During the Wayne County meeting on Thursday, SMART’s General Manager Dwight Ferrell gave a presentation, highlighting the organization’s interest in being viewed more as a mobility provider than a bus service.

Part of the effort is focused on expanding SMART’s Flex on-demand transit service, which has been operating on a pilot basis in Pontiac, Dearborn, Troy, Farmington and the Hall Road area in Macomb County. Ferrell, noting that there are locations where fixed-route transit service with buses doesn’t make sense, said there would be a lot of community outreach to determine how this expansion unfolds.

The Flex service, which allows users to book trips from and to their locations or nearby, grew from 122 monthly rides in March 2021 to 22,128 in June 2022, according to the presentation.

In a statement on the Wayne County ballot decision, Ferrell noted that the approval of the language means the process is complete for the region and it will be up to voters to decide.

“We plan to educate residents on our future vision for transit that is sustainable, improves mobility, increases access to jobs and will help people maintain their independence,” Ferrell said, noting also that SMART appreciates the “bold step” taken in Oakland County. “The county commission's concept for transit syncs with SMART’s vision to improve mobility. We are committed to working with Oakland County, and various stakeholders, including businesses and residents to develop a mobility plan that will best meet their needs.”

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: elawrence@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence. Become a subscriber.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Wayne County board OKs SMART millage ballot question