While three Farmington Hills officials voted last night to leave the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) system, they agreed with their colleagues on one thing.
"Everybody up here wants regional transportation," council member Richard Lerner said. "Our job is to spend your money wisely. I just don't see the service we should be getting out of SMART."
After hours of discussion, officials voted 4-3 against the "opt out" resolution, which means Farmington Hills will remain in the regional authority. They also reviewed a proposal developed by city manager Steve Brock and Dept. of Special Services director Dave Boyer that would provide service within city limits and would save more than $800,000 over what residents currently pay with the .59 mills levied for SMART service.
But those who voted against the resolution – Mayor Barry Brickner and council members Michael Bridges, Randy Bruce and Cheryl Oliverio – said they didn't believe the alternate proposal went far enough to provide the transportation service residents need.
Lerner, council member Ken Massey and mayor pro tem Nancy Bates voted in favor of opting out, citing doubts about the accuracy of ridership numbers and concerns about SMART's finances and service problems.
Lerner said he rode a SMART bus Monday morning and saw only 67 cars in the park and ride lot at . He said he had never seen more than a few people at a bus stop.
Fetzer said SMART hired a company to count the number of people who get on and off at stops on the regular bus routes. The total of 305,000 rides also includes 16,000 provided for seniors and people with disabilities.
"We send multiple buses through this community all day long," he added.
SMART officials promised a dial-a-ride plan, developed in response to concerns raised by Farmington and Farmington Hills officials . Expected to launch sometime in March, the service will allow any resident to receive curb-to-curb service through SMART within an hour of calling the company.
Hills officials all noted the regional transportation system is hobbled by the ability for cities to opt out, as well as the two-year millage cycle. But Bridges said SMART is "the best we can do".
He, Oliverio, Bruce and Brickner all pointed out that three-quarters of Farmington Hills residents supported the 2010 SMART millage. "The 900-pound gorilla in the room", Bruce said, is that citizens have overwhelmingly supported SMART at the polls, even though it's "a broken system".
Officials on both sides of the issue bristled at comments that implied those who wanted to opt out lacked compassion or were behaving irresponsibly.
"We're not trying to remove," Massey said. "We're trying to improve." He felt the only way to change what's wrong with SMART would be to get out of the system, so the city could pursue other options.
"This council has the best interests of this city at heart," Oliverio said. "We just look at things differently."