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Auburn Hills opts out of SMART bus service

Laura Herberg

The Auburn Hills City Council voted 5-2 in favor of opting out of the SMART bus system at its meeting Monday night. It also approved language to put on the August ballot asking voters if they want to pay 0.5 mills to create a city-run transportation system exclusively for seniors and adults with disabilities.

The council voted to withdraw from the Oakland County Public Transit Authority, the group that collects millage payments for Oakland County communities on behalf of SMART. Auburn Hills pays $65,000 per year and residents pay a little under 1 mill in taxes for SMART bus services, which include regular SMART buses, FAST buses, senior shuttles and more. According to slides presented at a council workshop on Feb. 7, the city could pay for projected costs with a .5 mill tax for residents, which would cover $382,000 annually plus $300,000 in upfront costs.

There were so many people in attendance who wanted to participate in public comment that the council voted to reduce the usual speaking time of three minutes per person to two. Dozens of residents from Auburn Hills and the surrounding area approached the podium. The overwhelming majority said they wanted the city to continue to participate in the SMART bus system either because they rode the bus or they supported transit in principle.

David Gifford, a Macomb County-based transit advocate, founder of Transit Guide: Detroit, and former board member of Transportation Riders United, said on Detroit Today Monday that the move would greatly harm residents. “They’re going to create 1,700 jobs but if they cut off that service, no one is going to be able to get to those jobs if they can’t take the bus,” says Gifford of the General Motors plant that is expanding in Orion Township.

Laura Herberg is a reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here. She won a Regional Murrow Award for best Hard News story (Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) in 2020 and she was named the Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter for radio broadcasting in 2020, 2018 and 2017. In 2012, she was awarded a SoundCloud Fellowship for her project, “Listen to Detroit.” She also is the creator of Complete Me, a podcast with only three episodes about how she has trouble completing tasks.