Detroit is the Motor City, but the honest truth? Many Detroiters aren’t driving cars.
About one-third of Detroit residents don’t own a car. DDOT saw a ridership of more than 900,000 in August.
As much as it is relied upon, the bus system holds Detroiters back as much as it gets them where they need to go. Buses regularly do not arrive at stops on time or at all. Drivers, riders and transit activists are frustrated with long wait times and cuts that aren’t improving the overall service.The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) is still facing a dire shortage of bus drivers that’s only gotten worse since the pandemic.
Last year, Detroit Documenters spent more than 40 hours riding the bus, interviewing riders, taking notes and snapping pictures of their journeys. They documented what was good — and what needed to be better. Here’s what they found.
A few things have changed since our last ride. DDOT Director C. Mikel Oglesby stepped down from his position in August. Oglesby took the job in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but failed to make significant changes during his tenure.
After facing community complaints, specifically those with disabilities, Detroit City Council rejected a five-year contract with French company Transdev to provide 70% of Detroit’s paratransit services. Residents continued to complain of long wait times, missed pickups and dropoffs and inadequate accommodations for wheelchair users.
The Documenters are hopping back on the buses for a second consecutive year in what we hope becomes an annual tradition. We want to get a comprehensive look at Detroit’s public transit system, its successes and its failures. You can follow along with the Documenters on X, formerly known as Twitter. Search for #DocumentersOnTheBus.
Even better, we want you to join us.
Below are a few places on DDOT’s 10 main routes that we think are worth checking out. DDOT has 37 routes serving Detroit.
Your challenge? Get on Detroit’s public transit. Tell us what landmarks you’d like to add and how your ride goes. You can share your experience with the hashtag #DetroitOnTheBus and help us keep attention on how public transportation is an essential, core service for a thriving city.
We hope you’ll try catching a ride. Scroll to the bottom to find tips for first-timers riding the bus. Want to share your experience with us or add a spot for us to ride? Find us on X at @media_outlier, Facebook and Instagram.
Route 1: Vernor Avenue
Route 1 connects downtown Detroit and Dearborn through Vernor Avenue. The route starts at Rosa Parks Transit Center and travels down Vernor Avenue through Southwest Detroit, ending at Michigan Avenue and Schaefer.
Use this route to reach Southwest’s business district, full of delicious food spots. Pick up snacks at Honey Bee La Colmena, treats at Mexicantown Bakery or lunch at Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. Once you’ve gotten your fix, check out Clark Park, then catch a show at El Club or Matrix Theatre Co.
It’s scheduled to hit each stop every half-hour during the day Mondays through Saturdays. At night and on Sundays, it’s scheduled for every hour.
Other destinations to see along Route 1:
- Newly redeveloped Book Tower
- The old Detroit News building (now owned by Bedrock Real Estate)
- The Detroit Club (still undergoing a discrimination lawsuit)
- Theodore Levin Courthouse (formerly named Detroit Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse)
- John K. King Used & Rare Books
- Mudgie’s Deli
Route 2: Michigan Avenue
This westside route starts downtown and travels through Corktown before crossing the city’s western border into Dearborn, ending at Fairlane Mall. It’s scheduled to arrive at stops every 30 minutes during weekdays, every 45 minutes on weeknights and every hour on weekends.
Other hotspots along Route 2:
- Roosevelt Park
- Rouge River (went up in flames in 1969 but is much cleaner now)
- Greenfield Village (the bus where Rosa Parks made her protest heard around the world is parked here)
- Senate Theater (home of a Wurlitzer organ!)
- AlTayeb (and more Dearborn restaurants with this guide)
Route 3: Grand River Avenue
This route shoots northwest from downtown up Grand River until it hits 7 Mile. As you pass DTE Energy-sponsored Beacon Park, you can read about the company’s record-high profits, debt collection practices and aging power lines that make Detroit susceptible to outages. This should keep you busy until you hit Bishop Park, where you might be able to spot the colorful DIY skate park. (Hopefully, it doesn’t end up like the former one.) If you’re hungry, pop into Detroit Vegan Soul and enjoy lunch along the Rouge River.
This route should arrive every 20-30 minutes during the day and every hour at night.
Also along Route 3, you can find:
- Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum (a beautiful spot)
- Grand Lawn Cemetery
- Redford Theatre (volunteer-run since 1928!)
- Norwest Gallery of Art (featuring BIPOC artists-in-residence)
- Pages Bookshop
Route 4: Woodward Avenue
Starting just northwest of Hart Plaza, this route goes up Woodward to the State Fairgrounds, crossing through Highland Park. This route is often called DDOT’s most reliable, with routes scheduled every 15-20 minutes during the day and every hour at night. The QLine is also an option for part of the way.
This route will drive past the famous Fisher Building (home to a new bookstore) and TechTown Detroit, where you can pop in and say hi to the Outlier staff. You’ll also pass Wayne State University (Go Warriors!) and the College for Creative Studies (Go Peacocks!).
Can you spot these other Route 4 landmarks?
- Compuware World Headquarters
- Detroit Opera House
- Detroit Athletic Club (jeans not allowed)
- Gem Theatre
- Detroit Historical Museum
- Detroit Institute of Arts (free to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne residents)
- Orchestra Hall
- Fox Theatre
- The Fillmore Detroit
- The Majestic Theatre and The Garden Bowl
Route 5: Lafayette-Van Dyke
Route 5 travels east from downtown across East Lafayette, then heads north on Van Dyke to Eight Mile. The beautiful Campus Martius is along this route, along with other outdoor spaces like the Eastside historic cemetery district (Mt Elliott, Elmwood and Lafayette), the Dequindre Cut or Lafayette Park. The streets are full of historic homes, so if you want to tour them, don’t forget your coat!
This route is scheduled to arrive every 30 minutes during the day Mondays through Saturdays. It comes every hour at night and on Sundays.
More sights to see along Route 5:
- Sister Pie
- Two Birds
- Solanus Casey Center
- Huntington Place
- Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
- Bel Air Luxury Cinema
- Detroit City Fieldhouse (not just for soccer!)
Route 6: Gratiot Avenue
Take Route 6 to travel from 3rd and Michigan across downtown, then northeast all along Gratiot Avenue. The route ends at Eight Mile, on the border of Eastpointe. The route is scheduled for every 20-30 minutes during the day and every hour at night, but there’s a lot to see on this short route.
Consider buying meat at Gratiot Central Market — a Detroit gem — and walking a few blocks to finish shopping at Eastern Market staples like DeVries & Co. Or, stay on Gratiot for coffee and art at Trinosophes and all the work clothes you could need at Cheap Charlies. Feeling artsy? Look for this year’s Murals in the Market pieces, then head north to Grand River and Heidelberg Street to find The Heidelberg Project (which is paused due to financial struggles).
Can you find these spots along Route 6:
- Renaissance Center
- Faygo plant (Did you know there’s a Faygo ice cream flavor?)
- Better Made Snack Foods plant (Ever tried their rare rainbow chips?)
- Historic Trinity Lutheran Church
- Second Baptist Church (Have you been on the Underground Railroad tour?)
- Detroit RiverWalk (The Belle Isle connection just opened!)
- South Detroit (aka Windsor)
- Dueweke Park (as seen in Planet Detroit’s 2021 parks report)
- Edmore-Marbud Park (hidden green space)
- Peoples Records
- Coleman A. Young International Airport (300 acres!)
- Comerica Park
- Ford Field
Route 7: Seven Mile Road
This 18-mile crosstown route will take you from Moross and Mack (#eastside) to Evergreen and Seven Mile (#westside) before taking a jaunt south to the Old Redford Meijer on Grand River south of McNichols. Hop off at Pontchartrain east of Woodward to explore Palmer Park and the Palmer Woods Historic District, or deboard farther west at Livernois to take in all the eats, shops, entertainment and (controversial?) history on the Avenue of Fashion.
Spot these points of interest along Route 7:
- Kern Playground
- Pershing High School (J Dilla’s alma mater, with Sydney James murals inside)
- Sherwood Forest branch of the Detroit Public Library
Route 8: Warren Avenue
Take this route to Dearborn, connecting Mack at Moross to Telegraph primarily using Warren. This bus is supposed to arrive every 30 minutes on weekdays, 45 minutes on Saturdays and 60 minutes at night and on Sundays.
Need more to do? Also along Route 8:
- Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
- Cadieux Cafe (home of feather bowling)
- Michigan Science Center
- Former site of the Lincoln Motor Co. Plant
- The Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Route 9: Jefferson Avenue
Use this route to get from downtown to Grosse Pointe Park. Route 9 passes by the beloved Hart Plaza (the fountain is getting renovated soon) and many must-stop restaurants and cafés like Norma G’s and Yellow Light. Other treats on this route are the city’s premier green spaces — the Detroit Riverfront, Dequindre Cut and Gabriel Richard Park.
This bus is supposed to get to the stop every 25 minutes on Saturdays, 30 minutes on weekdays and Sundays, and every hour at night.
Must-sees on Route 9:
- Pewabic Pottery (You’d know that tile work anywhere!)
- Campus Martius (again!)
- The “Venice of Detroit” canal district
- The Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre
Route 10: Greenfield Avenue
Route 10 is a far westside route that cuts through Detroit on Greenfield and connects Southfield and Dearborn. Not much of a sightseeing route, but there are still plenty of places essential to the metro area along the way, like Ford World Headquarters and Renaissance High School (Is it the best DPSCD high school?). Continue on to the University of Michigan-Dearborn (Go Wolverines!) campus, where you can take a path through the woods that begins at the Environmental Interpretive Center and ends at Fair Lane, the former home of Clara and Henry Ford.
Other spots of note:
How to ride the bus in Detroit
Dart tickets are $2 for four hours or $5 for a 24-hour pass. There are also seven-day passes for $22, and 31-day passes for $70. You can buy either kind of pass in exact cash or change as soon as you get on the bus — tell your driver which type of ticket you need before you pay.
You can also buy tickets downtown at the Rosa Parks Transit Center, online or on your phone with the Dart app. On the app, you can buy a ticket in advance and then activate your mobile pass as your bus arrives. Be ready to show it to your driver.
Dart passes can also be used on Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) system buses, which serve communities in metro Detroit, some routes inside the city, and the QLine. Find more information about SMART here.
Reduced fares are available for riders ages 65 and older, people with disabilities, Medicare cardholders and K-12 students with school IDs. Apply here. Wayne State University also offers free fares to full-time students and staff.
There are a few ways to track the bus and plan a trip from your phone. The DDOT Bus Tracker app includes a trip planner and real-time map, though it warns that the app doesn’t update when delays occur, so it can be inaccurate. Use the map to toggle options for fewer transfers or less walking if you have a preference.
The Transit app is geared specifically for non-car travel, with direction options that include renting electric scooters and MoGo bikes (and you can buy a pass to use a bike or scooter on the app).
Schedule and hours:
Buses come at different frequencies at different times of the day and on weekdays vs. weekends. View route maps with the services noted below or download a PDF from DDOT’s site for daily schedules – but remember that times are estimates and not always accurate.
Getting on the bus:
You can catch a bus at any stop along a route marked with a DDOT sign and your route number, typically every few blocks. These are more prevalent than the major stops noted on the route maps. Express buses make fewer stops. Check that you’re on the correct side of the street, make sure you’re visible to an approaching driver, and wave to flag down drivers.
Bringing your bike:
Buses have exterior bike racks, and bikes can’t be taken on board. Let the bus driver know you have a bike before exiting to ensure they don’t drive off with it!
Only service animals are allowed on the bus.
All buses are ADA accessible (though residents have complained that cars sometimes block access for people with disabilities). The front area of each bus is reserved for people who are disabled, seniors and riders with young children — if you’re on a full bus and can stand, it’s courteous to give up your seat to those who need one.
Pull the cord or press the signal strip when your stop is coming up in the next block or two. Drivers will not usually stop if they aren’t signaled and no one is waiting to board. Use the rear doors to exit.
No internet on your phone?
If you know your bus stop’s ID, you can get estimated arrival times by texting 414-11. (Find your bus stop’s ID on the DDOT Bus Tracker app or on a bus stop sign).
Be polite to your driver:
Stay out of the driver’s space, and remember to say thank you. It’s OK to ask simple questions, like confirming you’re on the right bus when you board.