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Washtenaw United: D2A2 bus service works to expand safe and affordable transit for Ann Arbor and Detroit residents

Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan program manager Ben Stupka
Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan
Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan program manager Ben Stupka


Ben currently serves as the Program Manager for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA). Ben has over 18 years of transportation planning experience working in the public and private sector. His experience includes managing and developing large strategic plans, fund programming, transportation planning research and analysis, financial modeling, public outreach, inter-governmental relations, federal grant management, and extensive consultant management.

During his time with the RTA. he has managed the development and adoption of the 20-year $4.7 billion Regional Master Transit Plan. Ben’s extensive experience reaches out to the San Francisco Bay Area region where he served in a senior role at the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District with responsibilities including development of the long-range capital budget, the annual operating budget, and grant writing.

Ben also served as a Principal Transportation Planner with the San Francisco County Transportation Authority with responsibilities including management of sales tax funding, development of fund programming plans, extensive grants management, inter-governmental relations, and financial modeling.


Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan

D2A2 Bus Service


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And one of the issues of equity we've been looking at is transportation and security. Well, a University of Michigan study found one in four adults in America are affected by this issue. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan has been operating a pilot program called D2A2. Now, it provides hourly bus service on weekdays between Detroit and Ann Arbor and limited weekend service. It's aimed at providing affordable and accessible transportation for those traveling between the two communities. How is it working? Well, our guest this morning is going to provide us some insight. Ben Stupka is program manager for the Authority. And thanks for making time for us today, Ben. I appreciate it.

Ben Stupka: Of course.

David Fair: There have been long-time efforts to better connect Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties with affordable and effective transportation. I vividly remember the excitement when it was first announced that the D2A2 service would begin on March 16th of 2020. The sentiment being, "It's finally happening!" And then on March 25th, Governor Whitmer issued those executive orders, effectively shutting down the state as COVID-19 hit crisis stage. What were the effects on this service as we worked our way through the pandemic?

Ben Stupka: It's a great question. And what we ended up having to do is actually just shut the service down. We made the decision that the service is only up and running for about two weeks at that point. At that point, we had no idea when, you know, how long the pandemic was going to last. So, we decided to shutter it and try and find a better time to open it. So, that's ultimately what we ended up doing.

David Fair: But once it did get up and running and had its formal launch, it has been characterized as quite successful. Based on early returns, how do you gauge the success of the D2A2 service?

Ben Stupka: So, we are coming up on our two-year anniversary. We started that first month with around 100 riders, and we are now edging towards 6000 riders a month. So, we have seen, you know, month over month growth in terms of ridership with that service. We did a survey earlier this year on rider satisfaction and asking, you know, a little bit about what could we improve. We are in, you know, over 90% rider satisfaction. There were some questions about later service and different fare options, which are both things we implemented over the summer to make the service even more responsive to ridership needs.

David Fair: So, what will be the future of D2A2 service? Is it sustainable in perpetuity?

Ben Stupka: We do have grants that support the service now. So, right now, those grants will support us for the next year and a half, and we will have to work to find some ongoing sustainable subsidies. So, this is always framed as a pilot service. We are seeing a good amount of success, which is great. So, now we have to kind of point our planning towards, "Okay, if we want to sustain this, what can it look like in the future?" But we still have some time, about a year and a half. And the thing that folks can really help us with is can you get on the bus and ride it. You know, the more ridership we continue to have, the more it grows. So, the better case will be able to make for sustaining the funding for it.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our look at the D2A2 pilot program, continues on 89 one WEMU. We're talking with Ben Stupka, who serves as program manager for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. The Authority right now is in the process of updating its regional master transit plan, and there's much to consider, from addressing transit needs of four very different counties, addressing inequities in access and affordability to improving environmental sustainability, and then to find the funding to accomplish what is needed. How closely is the Authority listening to the constituency itself in these counties as you develop future plans?

Ben Stupka: It's absolutely essential. So, we've done a couple of changes over the last few years, in terms of how we approach the regional master plan to really allow us to best connecting with community sentiment, what our transit providers are hearing, so the ride there in the Washtenaw community, along with the Wave and People's Express, SMART in the suburban Metro Detroit area, DDOT, the People Mover, the Q-Line, and all those folks who are running those services, along with several others. So, one of the big changes we did is we now do annual updates. We've done close to two dozen events over the last month or so: going out to community fairs, other things. We have a survey available for folks on our website. And then, I would also encourage folks when they're on the website to sign up for our newsletter. That is a place where we not only provide news about what we're doing as the agency, but the successes that the providers--the transit providers--are having and ongoing opportunities for engagement.

David Fair: I want to talk a little bit more about funding. Back in 2016, the Regional Transit Authority put a millage request before voters in the four counties. The voters of Washtenaw and Wayne County approved the measure, while Oakland and Macomb County voters rejected it--insufficient numbers to send the ballot measure to defeat. Is another such ballot measure a part of the plan in the future?

Ben Stupka: There's a few rules that we have to follow with the ballot measure, so it's important to frame up that the way that the state legislation we operate under is written is we can only do ballot measures in even years. And we can only do them in November ballots. So, we're kind of constrained in some ways. We can also only do property tax millages or vehicle registration fees. And the reason I say that and describe those pieces of constraint is one of the things we really need to look at doing for any future potential revenue measure is being able to sharpen our tools a bit. So, are there additional revenue options that we have out there or additional options for being able to go to the ballot in different ways? Right now, we kind of have, you know, a little bit of a monolith that we're dealing with and maybe having some flexibility. So, that's some of the stuff we're looking at in this planning process. The other big thing that we're doing is we're actively pursuing projects, like D2A2, other federal grant opportunities, other pilots and partnerships, to advance elements of the master plan. So, we're not just kind of sitting and waiting to do a ballot initiative, but we're saying, "What can we move forward today with the funding we have in front of us and the funding we can compete for?"

David Fair: Once again, we are talking with Ben Stupka on WEMU's Washtenaw United. Ben is program manager for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan. In looking back at where we were in 2016, this was quite a polarized nation and community. And if we look at southeast Michigan today, it's still polarized to a good degree. How will messaging need to change to get broader support for more investment, however that may come in sufficient transit?

Ben Stupka: So, there's so many ways that you can really message around transit. And I think that's often one of the difficulties. So, one of the things that we've really been focusing on is the idea that transit is the answer, which means when we're looking at things that we want to improve in terms of our overall quality of life, whether that be access to jobs, access to education, access to affordable health care opportunities, access to community and cultural events, access to your family, transit is at the core of all those elements. So, really being able to tell stories in each one of those areas that connect people back to saying, you know, having a viable, connected regional transit option will allow you to have this job opportunity, have this educational opportunity, have this opportunity for better health care. So, it's really about kind of tying back those stories to having those regional transit connections. So, really, that's what we're focusing on doing, in addition to, you know, trying to tell stories like what we hear at D2A2 really, really positive transit stories. I think a lot of times we focus on the negative, in terms of us what do we not have in transit, and we certainly have a lot of work to do. But there's a lot of really positive stories out there, a lot of things we've been able to achieve in the transit space over the last few years, all, by the way, going through a massive pandemic, changes and other things, different ways of deploying service or really being able to focus on the positive things that the transit providers are doing and we're doing to move to new operations for. And so, I think those are kind of the two pieces we're going to be focusing on going forward.

David Fair: So, Ben, and I hope this does come to pass, if we have opportunity to talk again at this time next year, what do you expect to be able to say about the D2A2 service and the future of public transit in southeast Michigan that perhaps you can't say today?

Ben Stupka: You're asking me to predict the future?

David Fair: I am indeed.

Ben Stupka: All right. So, D2A2, you know, I believe we're going to continue to see ridership increases. I think we're going to continue to see the service grow. And I'll be able to come back here in a year and say the numbers are X, again, more than what we've seen. And we've continued to see that growth. Hopefully, you know, I'll be able to talk about how we're going to be working to sustain that service as a successful part of the regional transit service going forward. I hope we're able to talk about, you know, some of the competitive grants and other things that we're working on right now and, hopefully, secure. Hopefully, we'll be able to secure for corridor projects, for new fare technologies, those types of things, and be able to share some of the ongoing successes that we're working on right now. Another quick one--this is more maybe for the metro Detroit side of things. Hopefully, we'll be able to announce that we will have our first airport to downtown Detroit connector. We have funding for that express service set up, and we're going to be working through the process to get that bus service up and running. So, hopefully, it will be fall of next year, that bus service should be up and running for at least three or four months at that point. So, again, another positive pilot project is something that the community has been clamoring for for a long time.

David Fair: Ben, I'd like to thank you for sharing the information and taking the time to talk with us today. I'm grateful.

Ben Stupka: Yes. Thank you so much. Thank you for the opportunity. I just maybe want to say, folks, visit RTA Michigan dot org. Please do sign up for our newsletter. It's a monthly newsletter that talks about everything we're doing, all the times we're out in the community, gives you all kinds of opportunities for feedback and information about what we and our transit provider partners are doing throughout the region.

David Fair: That is Ben Stupka, program manager for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan and our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on the authority and the D2A2 pilot program, visit our website at WEMU dot org. We'll get you hooked up to where you need to go. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station. 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Accessing reliable and safe transportation can be challenging. The University of Michigan reports that 1 in 4 adults experience transportation insecurity. This means that about a quarter of adults in the United States can’t navigate the world safely or timely.

Accordingly, roughly a quarter of American adults are unable to travel securely or efficiently. This statistic particularly affects people of color, people living below the poverty line, and people with disabilities.

If you or someone you know is facing transportation insecurity, visit FindHelp.org to find a list of low-to-no-cost agencies in Washtenaw County that provide reliable transportation.

Michigan.gov and Washtenaw.org also provide lists of local transportation agencies.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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