|SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
|SEMTA HISTORY - PART II: THE NEW REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY MOVES FORWARD
COOPERATION BEGINS BETWEEN SEMTA AND THE REGION:
On September 1, 1971, the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (formed in 1967) officially became an
operating agency with the take-over of Lake Shore Coach Lines. The purchase of that company and its routes came
about as a result of a joint financial cooperative arrangement among the communities that were serviced by the
company, which enabled SEMTA to acquire a federal grant to purchase the Lake Shore operation (see Part-1).
Because SEMTA did not have a continuing source of funding at that time, this type of regional cooperation would also
be used to acquire new equipment during the early months of 1971. Since the two-thirds share of federal UMTA grant
money for purchasing new coaches had to be channeled through a recognized and approved public agency, a joint
cooperative agreement needed to be reached in order for SEMTA to be able to place its first coach order for 154 new
GMC transit buses. The local one-third share for these coaches would be covered by $1.2 million from the City of
Detroit (including $158,000 from DSR funds), $818,000 from the State of Michigan, and $100,000 apiece from two
area suburban bus companies: Metropolitan [Metro] Transit, Inc. and Great Lakes Transit Corp. Since the struggling
Lake Shore Coach Lines had announced that it was discontinuing operations, that company was no longer included
in the cooperative agreement.
With the various entities now agreeing to put up the local $2.2 million shared cost of the $6.6 million coach order, the
remaining two-thirds would now be covered through a $4.4 million federal UMTA grant to SEMTA. This arrangement
made it possible for 99 of the coaches to be owned by the DSR, with the remaining 55 coaches owned by SEMTA. Of
the SEMTA owned buses, ten were leased (for token fees) to Metro Transit, another ten leased to Great Lakes Transit,
while 35 were leased to the DSR. These new GMC built "air-conditioned" coaches (Model T8H-5307A) were all
equipped with two-way radios, heated front door steps, impact-absorbing water-filled front bumpers, and the more
powerful 8-cylinder Detroit Diesel 8V-71 engine . SEMTA was now becoming a major player in the Detroit regional
NEW STATE-WIDE FUNDING FOR REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITIES:
In 1973, transit authorities statewide would finally be granted a much needed ongoing source of funding from the
state. On December 31, 1972, the Michigan State Legislature would amend Act 51 of the Public Acts of 1951 with the
passage of Act 327 of the Public Acts of 1972, which was signed into law by Governor William G. Milliken on January 3,
1973. This amendatory act would finally provide eligible state transit authorities with a guaranteed source of funding
by establishing a separate Statewide General Transportation Fund created within the state's Motor Vehicle Highway
Fund. This newly established form of revenue would be largely funded by an additional 2-cent per gallon gasoline tax,
with one quarter of that money (½-cent per gallon) slated for mass transit operations and capital improvement usage.
Though far short of what would be needed to provide a fully-funded regional system, this funding allowed SEMTA to
begin making substantial progress toward achieving its goals.
Meanwhile, by the early seventies, a number of transit bus companies in the area, including the Detroit DSR (whose
ridership numbers had dropped 25% in five years), were facing huge revenue loses and possible bankruptcy. With
the state's new gas tax funds, SEMTA was able to enter into a number of short-term "purchase-of-services"
agreements, where SEMTA would pay the local bus companies for maintaining service on their own routes. This
arrangement managed to keep those companies in operation until many were later bought-out by SEMTA. This type
of arrangement would also kept the Detroit bus system in operation through the remaining DSR years.
Purchase-of-service agreements were also used by SEMTA to launch a series of Direct Access Shuttle (DASH) routes
to directly link a suburb to an automobile related employment center. Purchase-of-service agreements would also be
used to relaunch suburban bus routes along Middlebelt and Twelve Mile roads that had recently been discontinued by
the DSR. It was also during this period (1974) that SEMTA purchased five used 1965 GM model TDH-4519 "New-
Looks" from the Evanston (Ill.) Bus Company to upgrade its Lake Shore Division fleet, and seven former Greyhound
GM model PD-4106 highway (parlor) coaches that were assigned to the other divisions.
Purchase-of-service agreements were also used after SEMTA took over operation of the city of Pontiac's bus lines.
After Pontiac cancelled its service contract with the Pontiac Transit Corp. (American Transit Corp.) in late 1970, that
city's Department of Public Works took over the bus routes effective February 2, 1971, operating as the Pontiac
Municipal Transit Service. New coaches were purchased and the four routes were combined into two. However,
effective July 2, 1973, the small city-run system (including drivers) was transferred-over to SEMTA, which would use
purchase-of-service agreements with Great Lakes Transit to operate the two former Pontiac routes.
MORE SUBURBAN BUS COMPANIES PURCHASED:
The growth of SEMTA can be somewhat compared to the growth of the federally funded AMTRAK, which was able to
increase its size by acquiring a number of smaller passenger railroad companies. With state funds now available,
SEMTA was now in a better position to finally begin acquiring the transit providers located within its region. First on
the acquisition list would be Metropolitan Transit, Inc., based out of Dearborn, which serviced Detroit's western and
downriver suburbs. The company's 60 buses, 14 routes, and a bus garage located on Hartwell in Dearborn, were
purchased for $1.3 million. SEMTA took-over operations on January 1, 1974. The former Metro routes were
renumbered M-1, M-2, etc., and now formed SEMTA's new Metropolitan Division.
Next came the purchase of Great Lakes Transit Corp., based out of Birmingham, which serviced Detroit's northern
east and west suburbs as well as the downriver city of Wyandotte. The company's vast number of routes were based
off of three trunk lines along Gratiot, West Jefferson and Woodward avenues, with various alternate, local and limited
routes branching off the main lines. The company's 104 buses and three garages were purchased for $2.2 million,
with SEMTA taking over operations effective April 1, 1974. Although most former Great Lakes routes were assigned
route numbers prefixed with the letter "G", its Roseville Garage operation was reassigned to the Lake Shore Division,
and the Wyandotte Garage operation moved to the Metropolitan Division. The remaining Great Lakes routes now
formed SEMTA's new Great Lakes Division.
The last and smallest of the suburban operators to be purchased was Martin Lines, Inc., which serviced Royal Oak
into Detroit and Highland Park. The company's 19 buses and two routes were purchased for $345,000, with SEMTA
operation beginning March 20, 1975. SEMTA was also able to acquire the Martin Lines' five-state Interstate
Commerce Commission (ICC) charter license, which it would continue to utilize for its interstate chartered service
operation. With the acquisition of Martin Lines, SEMTA's suburban consolidation program was now complete.
With suburban consolidation now complete, a number of the remaining transit companies that were never purchased,
including Port Huron Transit Company, DeLuxe Motor Stages and Northville Coach Line, would either go out of
business or eventually leave the transit bus business. Meanwhile, subsidies were provided to a number of out-state
intercity bus companies to operate routes between smaller cities further outside the Detroit city limits.
CONFLICTS DEVELOPE BETWEEN SEMTA AND CITY OF DETROIT:
Of course, number one on the SEMTA priority list of bus system acquisitions was the purchase of the City of Detroit
Department of Street Railways (DSR) 1,062-fleet bus operation. But even with a $5 million down payment in hand,that
goal would prove to be a task easier said than done. Negotiations on the sale of the DSR to SEMTA appeared "quite
productive" by late 1973, and there remained guarded optimism approaching the waning months of the Roman S.
Gribbs administration. However, that optimism would soon change upon the arrival of the newly elected Coleman A.
Young administration, which took office on January 1, 1974.
Negotiations soon began to sour as conflicts developed over Detroit's representation numbers on the SEMTA board,
and also over what the Young administration perceived as SEMTA's lack of a guarantee to maintain adequate service
for Detroiters at a "reasonable fare." Disagreements also arose over whether a vote by the citizens of Detroit would be
required before a SEMTA takeover could even take place. According to a new provision included in the revised 1974
Detroit Home Rule Charter (Sec. 7-1404), the city was prohibited from selling or disposing of any city-owned property
needed to furnish transportation services, unless approved by a majority of city voters. However, SEMTA officials
believed they had state authorization and were not legally bound by city law.
Employee personnel issues, and the protection of the rights of DSR employees would also became major hurdles —
especially regarding the question of who would pay for employee fringe benefits. But the underlying major obstacle
appeared to be more centered around a continually growing distrust that was developing between the City of Detroit
and its surrounding suburbs, an obstacle that would hinder regional transit develop throughout the SEMTA years.
For "SEMTA HISTORY: REGIONAL DISSATISFACTION ENDS REGIONAL TRANSIT" See: PART-III
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 MCA articles on the history of SEMTA and SMART, and on Detroit
suburban buses. Additional sources include, the 1977 SEMTA Annual Report; and various online transit websites.
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.
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