Despite the Motor City moniker, owning a car isn’t a given in Detroit, where an estimated one in five households don’t own a vehicle. That makes public transit essential — as well as a core service for a thriving city. 

But Detroit bus riders are often frustrated by long wait times and service cuts that have gotten worse since the pandemic, as the Detroit Department of Transportation faces driver shortages and other challenges. Over the next year, we’re looking closer at what is and isn’t working about our transit system (the People Mover will only take you so far), with help from the Detroit Documenters. They are spending the next two weeks riding the bus, interviewing riders, taking notes and snapping pictures during their journeys to document what’s good and what needs to be better.

You can follow along with the Documenters on Twitter at #DocumentersOnTheBus. Even better: Get on the bus with us.

Below, we’ve put together just a few places on each of DDOT’s 10 main routes we think are worth checking out. (DDOT runs more than 35 routes serving Detroit and bordering cities.)

Your challenge? Get on the bus and tell us what landmarks you want to add and how your ride goes. You can share your experience with the hashtag #DetroitOnTheBus and help us keep attention on how public transit needs to work for all of us.

If you’re a longtime rider, try checking out a route you rarely use. We hope you’ll try catching a ride if you’re new to the bus. Scroll to the bottom to find tips on how to ride the bus for first timers. Want to share your ride with us or a spot we should add to the list? Find us on Twitter at @media_outlier, Facebook and Instagram.


Route 1: Vernor Avenue

Route 1 connects downtown Detroit with the western reaches of the city across Lafayette, Bagley and Vernor, crossing into Dearborn and heading north to end at Michigan Avenue and Schaefer. 

Use Route 1 to reach Southwest’s business district. First, pick up a new read at John K. King Used & Rare Books, snacks at Honey Bee La Colmena and treats at Mexicantown Bakery for a picnic at Clark Park, then catch a show at El Club or Matrix Theatre Company (take a listen to some of their work while you ride).

Other notable destinations along Route 1:


Route 2: Michigan Avenue

This route starts downtown and, taking Michigan Avenue through Corktown before crossing the western border of the city into Dearborn. This route goes further than the route 1 bus and ends at Fairlane Mall.

You’ll pass some of the same landmarks downtown as the Route 1 bus, but should also check out how the construction is coming on Michigan Central Station and if there’s anybody on the field at the old Tiger Stadium, now called The Corner Ballpark. Think about checking out a movie or performance at the Senate Theater, home of a Wurlitzer organ that plays along, or one of the exhibits at the Arab American National Museum.

Other spots and landmarks along Route 2:


Route 3: Grand River Avenue

This route shoots northwest from Downtown up Grand River until it hits Seven Mile, where it ends. As you pass DTE Energy-sponsored Beacon Park you can read about the company’s debt collection practices, which should keep you busy until you hit Bishop Park, where you might be able to spot the DIY skate park. There’s plenty to see around the Old Redford neighborhood including the volunteer-run Redford Theater (with another organ!) that’s been going strong since 1928. 

Also along Route 3, you can find:


aerial view of woodward avenue in downtown detroit
Get a healthy serving of historic Detroit architecture with a ride down Woodward Avenue on the Route 4 bus. Photo credit: iStock

Route 4: Woodward Avenue

This route starts just northwest of Hart Plaza and goes up Woodward, to the State Fairgrounds, crossing through Highland Park on the way. This route has the reputation of being DDOT’s most reliable, and the QLine is also an option for part of the way. The architectural gems on this route are chockablock, but you start off with the less beautiful Compuware World Headquarters building. The museums are plentiful and you’ll also pass Wayne State University (go Warriors!) and the College for Creative Studies (Go Peacocks!)

Play Route 4 bingo with these landmarks:


Route 5: Lafayette-Van Dyke 

Route 5 crosses east from downtown across East Lafayette, then heads north on Van Dyke all the way to Eight Mile. Get off at Kercheval and Van Dyke to dine or drink at Marrow, Sister Pie and Two Birds, then stroll through the streets full of historic homes. Or make it a nature-full afternoon and walk through the Eastside historic cemetery district (Mt Elliot, Elmwood and Lafayette), the Dequindre Cut or Lafayette Park. 

Other notable destinations along Route 5:


Route 6: Gratiot Avenue

Route 6 travels from 3rd and Michigan across downtown, then northeast all along Gratiot Avenue. It ends at Eight Mile, on the border of Eastpointe. Hop out at Russell to pick up meat at Gratiot Central Market — a not-to-be-missed Detroit experience — and walk a few blocks to get the rest of your shopping done in Eastern Market staples like DeVries & Co. Or, stay on Gratiot for coffee and art at Trinosophes, vintage finds at BORO, LPs at People’s Records and all the work clothes you could need at Cheap Charlie’s. For public art, look for Murals in the Market pieces, then head north to Grand River and Heidelberg Street to find the Playground Detroit gallery and a one-of-a-kind installation, The Heidelberg Project, a few blocks east.

More to see along Route 6:


Route 7: Seven Mile Road

This crosstown route will take you from Moross and Mack on the east side to Evergreen and Seven Mile on the west side, before taking a jaunt south to the Old Redford Meijer on Grand River south of McNichols. That’s about 18 miles of city sights to take in from your seat. Hop off at Pontchartrain east of Woodward to explore Palmer Park and the Palmer Woods Historic District, or deboard further west at Livernois to take in all the eats, shops, entertainment and history on offer on the Avenue of Fashion

Spot these points of interest along Route 7:


Route 8: Warren Avenue

This is a crosstown route going all the way to Dearborn, connecting Mack at Moross to Telegraph primarily using Warren. 

You’ll go by the Stellantis plant and might be tempted to hold your breath, but let it out in time to blow over a feather or at least go feather bowling at the Cadieux Cafe. Need more exercise than that? How about a trip to Rouge Park or a summer swim at the Aquatic Center and then a reward from Shatila Bakery.

More places to plan an outing to on Route 8:


Route 9: Jefferson Avenue

This eastside route uses Jefferson to get from downtown to Grosse Pointe Park. It passes plenty of beloved restaurants and cafes from Norma G’s to Yellow Light Donuts, but the real treats on this route are some of the city’s premier green spaces like the Detroit Riverfront, Dequindre Cut and Gabriel Richard Park

Other sites and stops on Route 9:


Route 10: Greenfield Avenue

Route 10 is a far westside route that cuts through Detroit on Greenfield and connects Southfield and Dearborn. More of a workhorse than a sightseeing route, there are still plenty of places essential to the metro area along the way, from the economic power of Ford’s world headquarters to the brainpower supported and encouraged at Renaissance High School and the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus, where you can take a path through the woods that begins at the Environmental Interpretive Center and end up at Fair Lane, the former home of Henry and Clara Ford.

Other spots of note:


How to ride the bus in Detroit

How to pay:

DART tickets are $2 for four hours or $5 for a 24-hour pass. 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, 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 and some routes inside the city. 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.

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 them down. 

Deboarding:

When your stop is coming up in the next block or two, pull the cord or press the signal strip. Drivers will not usually stop if they aren’t signaled and there is no one waiting to board. Exit from the rear doors. 

Schedule and hours:

Buses come at different frequencies at different times of day and on weekdays vs. weekends. View route maps with the services noted below or download a PDF on DDOT’s site for daily schedules – but bear in mind that times are estimates and not always accurate. 

Route planning:

There are a few ways to track the bus and plan a trip from your phone. The DDOT Bus Tracker app (available on Google and Apple devices, as well as in a browser) includes a trip planner and real-time map, though it warns that delays can affect accuracy. Google and Apple Maps both let you find directions to a destination using transportation. 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 bike or scooter pass right from the app). 

No internet on your phone?

If you know your bus stop’s ID (find it in the DDOT Bus Tracker app or on a bus stop sign), you can get estimated arrival times by texting 414-11 — instructions here.

Accessibility:

All buses are ADA accessible. The front area of each bus is reserved for people who are disabled, seniors and folks with young children — if you’re on a full bus and able to stand, it’s courteous to give up your seat to those in need.

Bringing your bike:

Buses have exterior bike racks, and bikes can’t be taken on board.

Pets:

Only service animals are allowed on the bus. 

Be polite to your driver:

Stay out of the driver’s space and say thank you! It’s okay to ask simple questions, like confirming you’re on the right bus when you board. 

Find more rules and FAQs from DDOT here


Jack Filbrandt, Detroit Documenter, and Noah Kincade, Detroit Documenters coordinator, contributed.