How can we change the negative perceptions of public transportation in Detroit?

How can we change the negative perceptions of public transportation in Detroit?

  • detroit
  • community
  • public transit
  • public transport
  • equality
  • access
  • history

A brief history of transportation in Detroit

Detroit is well known for putting America on wheels by the mass production of cars. Detroit became the center of innovation and in the 1930s there were over 1600 streetcars in operation. Mass public transportation and cars co-existed but by the mid 1950’s, after 93 years, operating street car services ended and were replaced by a bus system and cars, which, in this blogger’s opinion, was the beginning decline of mass transit in Detroit.

Shifting perspectives about public transit

Along with all of the social changes in Detroit, from civil rights, riots, depopulation and slow social progress, many people felt the city’s services were ineffective, especially with regards to public transportation.  During this time, people’s perception of Detroit public transit began to shift - from convenience to inconvenience.  Many people began to see the public transit system as a broken one “not to be used”. This perception became so deeply rooted in our thinking and the morale of public transit employees was low. Many bus riders also felt the low job morale, seeing it reflected in unreliable services, for example: buses not running on time and being unsafe.

Reform in Detroit

While so many great cities in our nation utilize public transit as a way of convenience for all people, some Detroit metro cities cancel public bus services from coming to their city limits. There have been many failed attempts made to unify metro Detroiters around public transportation. But the perception that public transit is for poor people and is unsafe has blinded us from making the huge reforms that our transportation system so desperately needs.  The past fall 2016 elections are just another reminder that we must work harder to remove these barriers and change perceptions - for example the recent failure to pass regional transit in Michigan. Cities like Los Angeles are beginning to address transit barriers by passing their regional transit.

What does this mean for the Go Detroit Challenge?

The Go Detroit Challenge is more than a challenge to produce a physical plan to improve travel in Detroit - it’s also an opportunity to address perceptions like, “Only poor people use public transportation in Detroit”. We want Go Detroit to raise the consciousness of people to:

“Public transportation is for all Detroiters” 

The potential winners of this challenge must be savvy and have an understanding of this deeply-rooted perception and must consider how to remove this negative perception. Once this is truly addressed, I believe that Detroiters will begin to see rapid positive changes in our public transportation system - and that’s when we can really help Detroit to move forward! 


-- Quincy 


Quincy Jones is the Executive Director for Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and one of the Go Detroit Challenge Community Experts.


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