Despite Detroit’s nickname being the Motor City, it’s not a given for residents to own a car. An estimated one in five households in the city don’t have a vehicle, and those who do pay more for auto insurance than people in any other city in the United States. It’s not always easy to get around on public transportation either. Buses run late about 40% of the time and almost 10% of them don’t come at all.

Detroiters have told us again and again — through surveys, open newsroom conversations and public comments during city meetings — they struggle with transportation. The high cost and difficulty of getting around the metro area is keeping Detroiters from meeting their goals.

To learn more about these barriers, the Detroit Documenters spent more than 40 hours riding the bus in November 2022. They documented what’s working well and what needs to improve. They interviewed riders, took notes, recorded audio and snapped pictures during their journeys. 

Here’s what we learned from the Documenters on the Bus; our 2022 information needs assessment survey of Detroiters; and our recent transit-focused open newsroom event. We’ll focus our coverage around the following questions in the coming year with help from our partner newsrooms, The Detroit Free Press, Planet Detroit, WDET, Detroit Metro Times, Chalkbeat Detroit and BridgeDetroit.

As you read about some of our region’s biggest transit challenges, we hope you’ll share your own reactions and questions. Ask us a question, share your experience getting around the city, or tell us what you think needs to improve. 

Is getting around Detroit safe enough?

The answer is a resounding no, although the reasons why and the solutions needed to improve safety for drivers, transit workers, riders and pedestrians are less clear.

Is a lack of transportation holding Detroiters back?

The tradeoff in Detroit transportation is time or money. Using public transportation in the city can take twice as much time as traveling by car.

Does it cost too much to get around Detroit?

Most Detroiters are not able to afford to get to where they need and want to go.

Is transportation in Detroit fair or equitable?

Riders waiting at the State Fair Transit Center at Eight Mile. Detroit is building a new transit hub at the site, aiming to improve safety while providing indoor seating and bathrooms. Photo credit: Alina J. Johnson, Detroit Documenter

The world has Detroit to thank for the auto industry, but Detroiters have been left behind when it comes to transportation and economic mobility. Drivers and public transit users in Detroit have told us they are tired of a lack of attention to these important issues, unequal treatment and stigma.

Detroiters say the lack of affordable and accessible transportation makes them feel stuck in their neighborhoods and leaves them unable to connect with jobs in the region.

Bus riders interviewed by the Documenters want a transit system that is clean, works well and gets them where they need to be. However, they also pushed back against what they think is a stigma associated with riding the bus.

“Taking the bus isn’t that bad,” a rider named Deku told Documenter Alex Klaus. “It’s a stigma that if you ride the bus, you broke or dirty, which isn’t true,” Deku continued.

The consequences of not having adequate transportation cause students in Detroit to fall behind, adults to miss out on jobs and stick people who drive without insurance with expensive tickets, misdemeanor charges and even jail time

We’ll be investigating these issues and others you think are harming Detroiters in particular. Send us ideas and tips here.