.
METRO DETROIT PRIOR TO REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION:
Meanwhile, public transportation within the Metropolitan Detroit area during the 1960s consisted of the Detroit owned and operated Department of Street Railways (DSR), and a number of privately-owned suburban bus companies, including DeLuxe Motor Stages, Great Lakes Transit Corp., Lake Shore Coach Lines, Martin Lines, Metropolitan Transit Inc., and Northville Coach Lines. However, the decline in patronage and revenues experienced by transit operations nation-wide was also being experienced by Detroit area bus companies, including the DSR. It was becoming more obvious that a regional transportation approach would be needed, not only to access federal dollars, but for public transit to survive in Metro Detroit.

Detroit's first move toward regional transit came in early 1964, when then DSR general manager Lucas S. Miel proposed saving the financially-troubled system by merging it with a proposed three-county transit agency. While the city charter mandated that the DSR must operate from fare box revenues alone, a newly-created transit authority would be able to receive tax subsidies. With the support of Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh, a charter amendment proposal came under consideration which sought to merge the DSR with a newly-formed public transportation department, tentatively known as the Rapid Transit Authority. The amendment would also authorize the DSR to extend its operating area ten miles beyond the city limits, pending approval from the state legislature.

But the initial proposal couldn't muster enough support. Instead, Detroit voters were asked to approve a charter amendment change allowing the DSR to participate in the Federal Government's $375 million urban-transportation aid program passed by the U.S. Congress a few months prior. The proposed amendment would authorize the Common Council to appropriate from the city's general fund the required (one-third) matching monies needed for the DSR to obtain federal grants. This, along with a few other changes implemented by the approved charter amendment, managed to momentarily keep the DSR afloat.

.
Even though the Sept. 1964 city charter changes would manage to temporarily give the Detroit system new life, it still didn't address the region's pressing need to address transportation funding on a regional basis. With the surrounding suburbs still being serviced by the six financially-strapped independent bus companies, the passage of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 helped to generate discussions toward a southeast Michigan region–wide approach. Such a system would meet the new federal requirement leanings toward regional transit planning and better qualify the area for newly available federal capital grants.

Once again, Detroit city officials were quick to jump on the regional transit bandwagon. Mayor Cavanaugh, along with his special assistant, Robert E. Toohey (who Cavanaugh later appointed DSR general manager in 1968), worked feverishly in pushing toward forming a regional authority that favored control by the City and the DSR, rather than the city system being absorbed by a regional system. However, most out-state lawmakers were reluctant to go along with the Detroit plan and instead had a different idea in mind.

REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY CREATED:
On July 10, 1967, the Michigan State Legislature passed the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act of 1967 (Public Act 204), which authorized the creation of numerous metropolitan transportation authorities across the state. One provision within this new legislation (Section 124.405) specified the formation of the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA). This newly founded regional transit authority was organized with the long-range goal of developing and operating a coordinated public mass transportation system within the seven-county Detroit metropolitan region. Those counties included in the authority were: Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw, and Wayne. The mostly rural Livingston County would come on board sometime shortly afterward.

This new authority — defined by the enabling legislation as a public benefit agency and an instrumentality of the state with all the powers of a public corporation — was not only charged with planning, constructing, maintaining, replacing, improving, extending and contracting for services between the numerous transit providers located within its territorial boundaries, but to eventually acquire and consolidate the eighteen bus companies which operated within the region. These companies included a number of intercity bus operations; the six financially-strapped transit bus companies that ran between Detroit and its surrounding suburbs; and a few even smaller operations outside the city limits, such as The Bee Line, Pontiac Transit Corp. and Port Huron Transit Co. This legislation also opened the door for the new authority to acquire the City of Detroit's owned and operated DSR bus system.

Unfortunately, this new legislation did not grant SEMTA with any powers to levy taxes or with any continuing source of funding. Consequently, during its early years, SEMTA had to rely primarily upon state grants and private sources for its operational costs; in hiring consultants; performing transit studies; surveying existing bus companies; and launching experimental bus routes. In addition, the fledging system had to depend upon the financial assistance provided by the local communities and transit properties within its territory to acquire federal funds. The assistance provided by these agencies would help to provide the matching one-third local share money needed to qualify for federal grants. This method of generating funds would have to suffice until other funding sources could be obtained. It would be this type of joint financial cooperation that would assist SEMTA in obtaining federal funding to confront the first major crisis encountered so far in the young organization's history.

.
.
SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
Click here to return to the "SUBURBAN TRANSIT" Main Page.
For Comments and/or Suggestions, Please contact Site Owner at: admin@detroittransithistory.info
© 2006  (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 08-12-13)
.
Back in 1932, the Detroit DSR was granted the sole authority to operate public transit within the Detroit city limits.
However, a number of suburban bus companies were permitted to operate on a restricted basis within the city:
discharging-only inbound, boarding-only outbound.  In this August 1969 photo, taken prior to the take-over of the
suburban lines by SEMTA, Great Lakes Transit coach #1501 is south along Woodward Avenue at Congress Street
in Downtown Detroit.  DSR route #10 Woodward coach #2706 can be seen approaching in the background.
(photo courtesy of the Krambles-Peterson archive collection: G. Mac Sebree photo)
The above article was complied from information gathered from various Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News newspaper articles supplied by Stan Sycko;
and from miscellaneous Jack E. Schramm and Robert L. Campbell MCA articles on the history of SEMTA and SMART, and on Detroit suburban buses.
Additional sources include, the 1977 SEMTA Annual Report; various newspaper articles from the Jan. 28 thru Sept. 2, 1971 editions of the Grosse Pointe
News; the August 10, 1972 edition of the Grosse Pointe News; and the EH.net online article "Urban Mass Transit In The United States"

For a more detailed account on the history of both SEMTA and SMART, along with the history of the suburban Pontiac Bus System, see
the October-December 2003 edition of Motor Coach Age magazine.
SEMTA HISTORY - PART I: DETROIT'S MOVE TOWARD REGIONAL MASS TRANSIT
Prior to the formation of a regional transit authority in 1967, a number of independent privately-owned bus companies
serviced the surrounding Detroit suburbs. The above photos show General Motors built "old-look" and "new-look"
coaches that operated along Metro Detroit streets during the 1960s.  The bus companies featured above are: Great
Lakes Transit
(top row), Lake Shore Coach Lines (middle row) and Metropolitan [Metro] Transit (bottom row).
(Photos courtesy of: Jim Husing Collection (top row) and the Krambles-Peterson archive collection)
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S MOVE TO SAVE PUBLIC TRANSIT:
During World War II, transit ridership across the United States would skyrocket, as transit agencies across the country would benefit from a government imposed rationing of gasoline implemented during the war, which forced Americans to turn to public transit in droves. But that period in U.S. history would be the last hurrah for public transit in America, especially for those transit systems that were privately-owned. Not only was the automobile now much more affordable for many American families after the war, but the construction of new roadways and federally-financed expressways, including the Interstate Highway System, made automobile commuting more attractive. As quickly as 1950, transit ridership numbers across the country had plummeted to record lows.

With a decline in ridership and revenues, many transit companies were forced to abandon their streetcars (with their high capital costs) for less expensive diesel coaches. Many city governments were forced to take-over transit operations from privately-owned companies and form publicly-owned transit authorities. But continued ridership loses, coupled with high labor costs, employee strikes, and inflation, would take its toll on the industry. By the 1960s, public transit had ceased as a profit-making enterprise. An industry that once paid taxes to municipal governments now had to depend on local tax dollars to survive. Since the federal government had already been financing the building of new roads since 1916, many desperate cities now began turning to the federal government and asking for similar funding to support public transit.

The move in the direction toward federal participation in local transportation funding was stimulated by a "Special Message to Congress on Transportation" written by President John F. Kennedy on April 5, 1962. In that message, the President recommended that Congress establish a long-term program of Federal aid to urban mass transportation in the form of direct grants to regional mass transportation systems across the country. That message opened a new era in urban transportation and would lead to this country's first real effort to provide federal assistance for urban mass transportation development.

SEMTA's FIRST BUS COMPANY ACQUISITION:
On February 9, 1971, the suburban Lake Shore Coach Lines company — which serviced the five Grosse Pointe communities and St. Clair Shores into downtown Detroit — announced it would cease operations at midnight February 28. Although the company carried 7,000 riders daily, it lost $14,650 in 1970, and $9,680 during January, 1971. After a last minute Wayne County Circuit Court order to keep service operating was lifted on April 22, and a new July 31 shutdown date announced, the company would reach an agreement with SEMTA on July 29 to continue operations until September 1. Meanwhile, SEMTA was able to persuade the six communities serviced by the company to provide (on a pro rata basis) the required $78,000 local share money needed to acquire a $156,000 federal UMTA grant to purchase the company.

In addition, the six communities had also agreed to collectively pay up to $5,000 per month for any operational loses sustained by SEMTA in keeping the Lake Shore line running through December 31, 1972. SEMTA officials were hopeful that by then, Governor William G. Milliken's proposed 1971 Mass Transportation Bill (House Bill 5707) — which had been passed by the House but stalled in the Senate Committee on Highways since February, 1971 — would have become a reality and provide SEMTA with an ongoing source of funding. Passage of the bill would eliminate the need for the use of community subsidies to keep the lines running.

With the acquisition of Lake Shore Coach Lines, effective September 1, 1971, SEMTA had become (for the very first time) an official operating agency. The Authority now owned 44 buses (with the latest models purchased in 1967), four bus routes, and one bus garage located on Edlie Street south of E. Jefferson in Detroit. The four routes were numbered L-1 thru L-4 and became SEMTA's new Lake Shore Division. To help bolster service, SEMTA immediately acquired ten retired GM TDH-5105 "old-look" coaches for $17,000 from the Detroit DSR, which were renumbered #430-439. Two more TDH-5105's were purchased in 1972, one from Great Lakes Transit and another from the DSR (renumbered #440-441 respectively), bringing the total Lake Shore fleet to 56 buses. The four year old SEMTA was now officially in the business of operating transit buses.

In 1964, the 88th United States Congress passed the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-365). Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 9, 1964, the act provided $375 million for large-scale urban public or private rail projects in the form of matching funds to cities and states.

The objective of the act was "...to encourage the planning and establishment of area-wide urban mass transportation systems needed for economical and desirable urban development." The Urban Mass Transportation Act would authorize federal capital grants for up to two-thirds of the cost of transit improvements, including equipment for mass transportation (including buses), and the construction and reconstruction of transit facilities. However, all federal funds had to be channeled through approved public agencies. The releasing of these new federal grant dollars would no doubt positively impact public transit operations across the country, including here in Metro Detroit.

.
On July 9, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed
the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, which
launched federal aid for urban mass transit in the U.S.
(Photo courtesy of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on FB)
Between 1971-73 the Detroit DSR would finish
retiring and selling-off the last of its GM
TDH-5105 "old-look" coaches.  Ten of  these
ex-DSR buses were purchased by SEMTA in
1971, and one more in 1972, to enhance service
on its Lake Shore Division routes.
(Photo source: Krambles-Peterson archive collection)
.
CLICK HERE
TO PRINT
TEXT–PAGE
..
The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
For "SEMTA HISTORY: THE REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY MOVES FORWARD" See: PART-II