Ann Arbor Detroit Shuttle: Revitalization or Unnecessary Expenditure?

Detroit People Mover

Beginning October 5th the University of Michigan will launch a new shuttle service running from Ann Arbor to downtown Detroit. For now, the program is in its pilot stage, and will run on Fridays and Saturdays. However, the director of U of M’s Detroit Center, Addell Anderson, hopes that demand for the shuttle grows to a point where the project can attract more funds, and thus, have a larger fleet of buses and a weekday schedule.

For now, one bus will begin its first hour-long trip on Fridays to Detroit at 8 a.m. from C.C. Little. The final trip on Friday will return at 8:45 p.m. On Saturday, the shuttle will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the final trip will return to Ann Arbor at 10:50 p.m. Between these times, the bus will run four times between Ann Arbor and Detroit, making stops at U of M’s Detroit Center, Eastern Market, the Cultural Center, and Downtown and Southwest Detroit.

Interest for the shuttle seems to be very high from a number of parties, especially since it is not restricted to U-M students. The public can reserve seats online, walk-ons can ride if there is space, and anybody can ride in either direction (Detroiters can come to Ann Arbor and vice-versa).

Since the University has made significant financial and education investments in Detroit, this service aims to afford students an efficient way to explore Detroit. Fourty-five thousand of the shuttle’s funding comes from the Third Century Fund, U of M’s internal grant campaign. According to an interview with Anderson for MLive.com, the “aim is not to become a full-scale transit provider, but to better facilitate and advance learning and engagement with the city, as well as to deepen relationships between Detroit and the U-M community.”

Last semester, when the idea for an Ann Arbor-Detroit connector first materialized, a survey of roughly 300 students indicated that such a connector would make them more likely to engage in all that Detroit has to offer.

For example, the U of M Detroit Center’s mission is to “mutually enrich the University’s and Detroit’s communities through service, education, research and the exchange of culture”. The center has an impressive list of current initiatives, including public health, engineering, art and design, social work, and community service. Regardless of which academic discipline you are focused in, it appears as if greater access to Detroit will allow students to apply their skills and interests, while giving back to community.

Although current funding and planning have slated for the shuttle to run only for the current semester, Anderson is optimistic that the project’s popularity will extend it into the future. The shuttle fills quite an obvious void in our opportunities as students, and it opens the door to a mutually beneficial relationship between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

One potential issue with the shuttle however, pertains to how it will be used. If the schedule ends up getting extended to weekdays, UM should keep track of what sorts of growth the shuttle has allowed for. Are students using the shuttle to augment their studies and benefit Detroit? Or, is it simply a free ride for students and non UM students? Although the current funds only comprise a small fraction of a $50 million fund, the program should only grow if it is being used for the betterment of Detroit and our student body.

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