|THE HISTORY OF D.S.R. EXPRESSWAY
BUS OPERATION IN DETROIT
(The Motor City's answer to "Rapid Transit")
By the fall of 1954, ten express bus routes were in operation by the Detroit DSR. Aside from some deviation along a
major thoroughfare, all basically mimicked the local bus or streetcar route. These "Express" buses would make local
(boarding only) stops along outlying areas of the city, with some "limited" operation between designated points along
some routes. At some point, the coaches would begin an on-street non-stop "express" operation into downtown, with
one stop at Grand Blvd. The outbound (P.M.) coaches generally followed the same route in reverse.
D.S.R. EXPRESSWAY BUS SERVICE EXPANDS:
Meanwhile, during the mid-1950s, construction on both the John C. Lodge and Edsel B. Ford Expressways would
help to launch an aggressive DSR campaign to win back some of its lost post-war ridership by providing so-called
"rapid transit" bus service. This type of service would attempt to use expressway buses that would operate along both
of the city's newly constructed expressways.
Even prior to the completion of the John C. Lodge Expressway, the Hamilton Express route had already become the
DSR's first express route to operate along an expressway, after its coaches were routed onto a short half-mile
completed stretch of the Lodge, that began on Monday, Dec. 4, 1950. As new segments of the Lodge opened, the
route was extended further south: to Grand River on May 1, 1953, and finally to Bagley on Sept. 24, 1954. However, it
wasn't until the first three Ford-Lodge Interchange connecting ramps opened on Jan. 18, 1955, that more of these
express buses would begin to utilize the city's newly built expressways to transport passengers into downtown.
On Jan. 31, 1955, the newly launched Plymouth Express line became the first express route to utilize both the John C.
Lodge and Edsel B. Ford Expressways. The Plymouth Express service operated from Plymouth and Outer Drive, then
via Plymouth Road to Wyoming, and then south along Wyoming to McGraw, where it would access the Ford and begin
its expressway operation.
Stops at two special "rapid transit" loading stations incorporated into the Ford Expressway, at both Livernois and
Grand River, were also included along the route. The buses would then whisk passengers along the expressway to
the new Ford-Lodge Interchange, where the coaches would enter the Lodge Expressway to continue the inbound trip
into downtown Detroit. (see video clip on web-page)
However, effective Monday, Nov. 21, 1955, the Plymouth Express routing via Wyoming, McGraw, and the Ford and
Lodge Expressways was reassigned to the new Joy Road Express route, while Plymouth Express coaches were
instead rerouted further east along the entire Plymouth local route. Its express buses now entered the Lodge
Expressway at Webb.
In an energetic attempt to provide its riders with "rapid transit" service through the use of expressway express buses,
additional expressway routes were launched as more segments of the expressways were completed. By late
February 1955, the Ford and the Lodge Expressways were being used by both the Dexter and Grand River Express
routes — with both lines now entering the Ford via Maybury Grand (just west of Grand River). But this new expressway
routing for both routes was later discontinued by late 1956, after not proving to be much faster than the previous street-
level express bus service.
In spite of that, the DSR's use of expressway express bus operation would continue to expand. On Nov. 7, 1957, the
new Fenkell Express route was launched after sections of the Lodge through the Lodge-Davison Interchange were
completed. The Fenkell Express operated from Fenkell and Inkster Road and followed the local Fenkell route to 14th
and Davison, where it traveled via Davison to access the Lodge Expressway into downtown. However, plans were
being made by the DSR to take their bus Expressway Program in a new direction with the launching of the "Imperial
Northwest Express" in 1958. (see next section below)
Meanwhile, in 1957, express service was added to the Woodward line, but this new service did not operate along an
expressway. Sporting checkered black-and-white flags, the Woodward Express began operations on Oct. 14, 1957,
and followed the local route — but began its non-stop express operation at Tuxedo with one stop at Grand Blvd. On
Nov. 5, 1962, a similar express service began with the launching of the "Gratiot Express" line, which also followed the
local route and began its express service to downtown at Outer Drive with one stop at Grand Blvd.
One of the last express routes added under the DSR was actually a second express route added to the Plymouth line.
On July 20, 1964, the Plymouth Express (via Grand River) was launched. It operated via Plymouth from Middlebelt
Road to Grand River, and then express operation via Grand River with one stop at Grand Blvd.
[SEE WEB-PAGE FOR VIDEO CLIP]
THE LAUNCHING OF THE "IMPERIAL NORTHWEST EXPRESS" ROUTE:
The completion of most of the John C. Lodge Expressway from downtown to the Wyoming curve in late 1957 would
help to launch what DSR officials had hoped would become a new phase in Detroit expressway bus operation.
According to the article, "Detroit's DSR, Part 3" by Jack Schramm (Motor Coach Age: May-June 1993 edition), an
express bus service of a different kind was inaugurated on Monday, May 26, 1958.
This new expressway bus route would operate along the John Lodge Expressway and the connecting James
Couzens Highway to W. Seven Mile and Inkster roads. It would be considered the "de luxe" of all DSR express bus
service. As a result, this new route would be called the "IMPERIAL NORTHWEST EXPRESS." Although not the first
DSR express route to utilize the city's new expressway system, it was by far the longest.
Two Detroit Free Press articles at the time — dated May 26 and 27 — reported on how the DSR went all out to
inaugurate its new "Imperial Northwest Express" bus line. The launch day literally rolled out the red carpet, complete
with attractive hostesses, free rides and refreshments, and, of course, the big wigs from City Hall.
Seated on board that inaugural bus was Detroit Mayor Louis C. Miriani; members of the Detroit Street Railway
Commission; general manager of the DSR Leo J. Nowicki; a group of northwest-side businessmen; and other civic
leaders. In addition to the Miss DSR (May) passing out free doughnuts, milk and orange juice to all the passengers,
that first bus on the Seven Mile Road "De Luxe" express line was even laid-out with thick, red carpeting covering the
floor and steps.
During the first two days of operation, bus rides on the new express line were free. Pretty young bus hostesses with
"Hello" name tags passed out milk, fruit juice, doughnuts, potato chips and chewing gum, and "smiled sweetly" as
they greeted the over 5,500 Detroiters who tried out the new service.
The new Seven Mile Road express would become the DSR's longest express line, with one round trip covering 35
miles. The buses traveled along W. Seven Mile Road from Inkster Road; then along the scenic James Couzens
Highway that merged into the recently completed John Lodge Expressway; terminating at the City-County Building
downtown — all in less than 55 minutes!
The DSR promised that the service from the end of the line to downtown Detroit would be 20 minutes faster than
previous local service. Coaches would operate daily, every 10 minutes during the rush hours and every 30 minutes
the rest of the day.
The fare ranged from 45¢ at the end of the line to 25¢ nearer downtown. This fare structure was based on a new
express zone-fare system the DSR had put into effect on all fifteen of its express routes that same day. However, on
Aug. 11, the zone-fare system was discontinued after it had been pointed out that the DSR had failed to seek the
proper channels for its approval. The express fare would then return to the previous 25¢ one-fare system — one
nickel above the regular fare.
Although expressway bus service had been heavily promoted by the DSR during the years following WW-II as a faster,
more economical alternative to building light rail lines within the city's expressway grid, it soon proved to be more of a
headache than an alternative. Since proposed "bus only" freeway lanes were never built, buses were often delayed in
traffic tie-ups along the expressways. The few "rapid transit" passenger boarding stations that were built along the
Ford Expressway were rarely used, and the push toward adding additional "rapid transit" bus routes across the
expressway system diminished as the ridership numbers never materialized.
Even though the Joy Road Express buses would continue to use the Ford and Lodge Freeways for some years, that
service too was eventually withdrawn. Freeway operation for the Joy Road Express was discontinued, and its buses
were rerouted into downtown via Michigan Avenue, effective Oct. 3, 1965.
EXPRESSWAY BUS OPERATION THROUGH THE YEARS:
Down through the years only a limited number of express routes have operated along the Detroit freeway system.
While the Fenkell, Hamilton, Imperial and Plymouth Express buses would continue to use the Lodge Freeway, the
Second Blvd. and the John R.-Oakland Express buses would begin using the recently completed Walter P. Chrysler
(I-75) Freeway. The John R.-Oakland Express (renamed Oakland Express in 1973) began using I-75 on June 20,
1969, while the Second (W. McNichols) Express began its freeway operation on Jan. 17, 1972.
Perhaps the most unusual express route of them all was the DDOT Route #71, Crosstown Express (via West Warren
Ave), which traveled via West Warren and Grand River during the morning rush, but would use the I-375, I-75 and I-96
freeways to West Warren Avenue on its evening return trip to Rouge Park.
During the late seventies, when the city's express bus era was coming to a close, as many as twenty express routes
were still in operation. Only seven of these routes, however, operated over the city's freeways. By the year 2007, only
three regular DDOT "Limited" bus routes remained, with only two routes — the Imperial Limited and the Plymouth
(local) — operating over the city's freeway system. They would become the last two remaining reminders of what was
once promoted to be the city's most economically feasible alternative to building mass transit.
When the Imperial "Limited" route was discontinued by DDOT in March of 2012, sixty-two years of expressway bus
operation in Detroit had come to an end.
Information for the above article compiled from Detroit Free Press articles "And Now (Wowie!) DSR Bus Hostesses" (May 26, 1958),
"DSR Glamor Bus Rolls into Town" (May 27, 1958), The Detroit News article "DSR Riders Gripe, Some May Boycott Expresses" (May
26, 1958), Detroit's DSR, Part 3 by Jack E. Schramm (May-June 1993 MCA), and other numerous sources. Express bus route's effective
dates courtesy of "DSR BUS ROUTES, 1945-1975" (May-June 1993 edition of Motor Coach Age magazine)
© 2007 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (TXV 10-12-14)
NOTE: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED AND CAN BE VIEWED ON ORIGINAL WEBSITE PAGE
To visit original website version of this page see: www.detroittransithistory.info/AroundDetroit/DetExpwyBusHistory.html
|This 1955 photo looks north along the John C. Lodge Expressway at the Edsel B. Ford Expressway
Interchange. During the 1950s and '60s a number of DSR express routes began using the city's new
expressways into and out of the downtown area.
(Photo source: 1955 DSR Annual Report – Courtesy of the Stan Sycko Collection)
PRINTER–FRIENDLY TEXT VERSION: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS PAGE