Detroit Center Connector aims to increase ridership

Infographic by Shane Achenbach and Jake Wellins
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By Paige Pfleger, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 21, 2014

After a successful first trial year, the University’s MDetroit Center Connector bus has established itself as a viable option for students traveling to Detroit. Now, the goal is to generate more interest to keep the program alive and growing.

The bus, now in its second year of operation after being renewed as a part of the University’s Detroit Center budget, made its first journey of this year Sept. 18 running on grant money. The service is free, and the Connector staff plans to keep it that way for as long as possible, though a $5 donation per ride is suggested.

The first MDCC launched back in October 2013 after assessing student demand via survey. The results of the initial survey from February 2013 indicated that over 75 percent of possible riders — students, faculty, staff and community members — were ‘very likely’ to use the service if it were provided.

In its trial year, the Connector fulfilled that demand: approximately 150 people travelled from Ann Arbor on the Connector per week in the fall and winter, and 100 per week in the spring and summer months. Since its launch in October 2013, there have been approximately 6,000 rider trips out of Ann Arbor.

Rackham student Carolyn Lusch was hired on as the Transportation Coordinator for the MDCC and helped shape the Connector into its current form.

“We set up a very rudimentary system for making reservations at first,” Lusch said. “It was literally just a Google doc that I checked every day so that we would know who was riding.”

The reservation system is now a little more involved — a website through the University where students can visit to see all the available dates and times that the connector is running, reserve a seat and check out events that are taking place downtown.

The service is primarily for Mcard holders but students and faculty are allowed four guests per day. The reservation serves two purposes: to ensure that riders have a spot on the bus and to collect data about why riders are going to Detroit.

“Last year, our largest segment was people going to visit family,” Lusch said. “Then after that was people doing cultural events down here. The main purpose of this is to enrich the cultural and educational connection. We do see people visiting their family as still a way to enrich their education because it’s helping them stay connected to their support network while they’re pursuing an education in Ann Arbor.”

LSA freshman Tayler Thurman, a Detroit native, took the MDCC Friday for the first time to go visit her family for her birthday.

“I think this is really cool, especially since it’s free,” Thurman said. “It’s really convenient.”

Rackham student Joshua Shipper takes the MDCC to commute to class from his residence in Detroit. A New York native, Shipper lived in Ann Arbor for a while but found he missed living in an urban environment.

“To be near such a major city and to not partake in it felt weird, in some way,” Shipper said. “To claim that I was close to Detroit but to not actually be a part of it felt weird. I just feel more at home in a city.”

Because this is its first year being funded by the University, the MDCC team’s main goal is to keep growing ridership. They are targeting University groups and classes that may want to take cultural field trips to the city. Since the Connector began its service, approximately 60 student groups have used the Connector.

“There isn’t a quota that we need to maintain, per se,” Lusch said, “but we have been told by the University that they are monitoring it. So anyone who has ever considered riding it, ride it.”

If demand becomes great enough, they would consider adding more stops to the route in Ann Arbor and in Detroit. Currently, the bus runs Thursday through Sunday at various times throughout the day. It begins its route at the University of Michigan Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue, makes another stop behind the Detroit Institute of Arts, then heads to Ann Arbor, stopping at C.C. Little. On the way to Detroit, students drive through the heart of downtown, stopping at the Renaissance Center before heading back to the Detroit Center to begin the route again.

Though Detroit is mostly a driving city, the stops available provide access to key areas of cultural interest. Cafés, bars, restaurants and other attractions are within walking distance of the three stops. Employees at the Detroit Center have information regarding bike rentals and the Detroit public bus system to explore less central destinations.

In an effort to make the Connector less intimidating to students who aren’t used to public transit, Lusch launched Transit Tuesdays, a weekly meeting in Ann Arbor in the Michigan League. Lusch goes and sits at a table marked with the Detroit Center sign, and is available for questions and comments regarding the service.

“The future of this project depends on the riders,” Lusch said, “And our showing that the service is being used a lot.”

Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the Connector's official title. It is formally the MDetroit Center Connector.