Though funding for the University of Michigan’s Detroit Connector bus service from Ann Arbor to Detroit has been approved for the next academic year, the long-term future of the service is once again uncertain in the face of new transit advancements.
The service, which has faced a tenuous future several times in its short history, transports students between the two cities four days a week. In July of 2015, University officials decided to cancel funding for the MDetroit connector service by the end of 2016, but in April of 2016, CSG passed a resolution to encourage the University to extend the service.
However, a regional vote on a proposed transit bill this November, may lead to changes in the service.
In August, leaders from four counties in Southeast Michigan — Washtenaw, Maccomb, Oakland and Wayne — agreed on a plan put forth by the Regional Transit Authority that would expand mass transit in the region, including the development of a direct rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit. This agreement allowed for the bill to be put forth for a referendum vote on the Nov. ballot.
Public Policy junior Dylan Bennett, who is co-chair of the Central Student Government Commission on Detroit Engagement — and is in charge of working with the Office of the Provost to maintain the Detroit Connector — said financial support for the existing service is constantly at risk of not being renewed.
“Every year it’s technically in jeopardy, because they’ve been waiting for the Regional Transit Authority to get their referendum on the ballot this November,” he said.
Bennett said the results of the upcoming vote do not necessarily put the bus transit service at risk of being shut down, but rather changed, adding that University President Mark Schlissel and University Provost Martha Pollack have both expressed support for continuing of the bus line.
Rather than shutting down, Bennett said if the regional transit bill passes, he expects the Detroit Connector will continue to operate, and will merge with the greater regional transit system as it continues to grow.
“If it’s a yes vote, it’s going to exist, it’s just going to play a bigger part of a bigger transit system,” he said. “I’m really hoping that the RTA bill does get passed and that maybe the Connector becomes phased into a bigger regional plan.”
LSA junior Rohin Patel, who co-chairs the Commission on Detroit Engagement, expressed a different view, saying while he thought the RTA would be a benefit to students traveling to Detroit, it may lead to shutting down the Detroit Connector service.
“I think that this bill would be a good thing for people who are not aware of the Connector but are aware of this bill; however, I think that it will render the Connector’s function obsolete if it does go through, if it is more accessible to students,” Patel said.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the outcome of the November vote will not necessarily lead to the expansion or ending of the Connector bus program.
“While the RTA regional transit bill does not directly impact this service, the University explores all transit options available each academic year to support and cultivate the relationship between UM and Detroit,” she said.
Bennett said the University has declined to support a long-term funding plan for the service due to a constantly changing mass transit environment, preferring contracts on a yearly basis.
“In general, and especially with the RTA, the solution can change from year to year, so that’s why the provost isn’t going to come out and say ‘We’re not going to fund the connector for five years,’ ” he said. “I wouldn’t even agree with that because the whole landscape of regional transit could change.”
Last year, the Detroit Commission distributed a university-wide survey to students last year to gauge student interest and use of the bus, receiving responses for 2,954 students. Of the students who responded, 56.4 percent said they had used the bus service, and 22.4 percent of those who responded said they used the service every month.
LSA sophomore Olivia White said she does not personally take the bus to Detroit because she has a car, but knows a lot of people who regularly take the bus, particularly to attend concerts. She said overall the service is useful to students, though some changes would make it better.
“I think the service could be improved. I think it could be made more secure and safer,” she said. “Some of the drop-off points are a little sketchy.”
Bennett said the results from the CSG survey played a key role in securing funding for this year, because they established a present desire from the student body for the service.
“The provost’s staff is not worried that funding will get pulled just based on the work we did last year,” he said. “The provost is aware that the students want it, support it and need it to some extent, but the renewal will just be on a year-to-year basis. It’s not stagnant; it’s a constant discussion.”