For people who live and work outside of metro Detroit, commuting to recreational areas and out-of-the-way businesses can be a hassle that compounds if you don’t own a car. The SMART bus system does what it can to move people quickly and safely, but gaps in transit ease persist.
“The default thought is to drive your own car everywhere if you can afford it, but not everyone can and bus lines don’t cover every inch of those less traversable areas,” says SMART Bus Deputy General Manager Robert Cramer.
Enter SMART Flex, an on-demand system created by SMART and the vehicle for hire company Via to increase walkability to the standing public transit routes. At first glance, SMART Flex looks like a mashup of ride sharing apps in the mold of Lyft or Uber, but it is only meant for short, local trips within small zones.
The Dearborn Flex Zone connects two historic districts and cultural attractions, the Troy Flex Zone includes two major shopping destinations, and the Hall Road Corridor Flex is the largest of the three and links Utica to New Baltimore.
“Flex rides can be linked directly to pre-planned trips you’re taking with Park and Ride or regular SMART. It’s eco-friendly, all drivers undergo background testing and each car features the signature SMART color wrap. Ease of use is a big thing we’re aiming for,” Cramer says.
Bus passes paid for on SMART routes can be used to pay for Flex rides similarly to how DDOT passes can be used as fare on the QLine. SMART Flex is also doing what it can to help those most in need access vaccination locations and other COVID-19 services.
Cramer says, “We saw a chance to build on the Via partnership to boost vaccine mobility in areas with the highest need and do real good in those communities. As long as the trip starts or ends in a vaccination station, one of 250 we have registered, the first four trips are free in the app portal.”