How do you get from Detroit's Metropolitan Airport to Traverse City, some 260 miles north, without a car? It might sound like an unsolvable riddle, but transit enthusiasts from around Michigan are going on a three-day journey to prove it's possible, if not for the faint of heart.
A group of 15 dedicated transit riders will embark on a Transportation Odyssey, organized by the Transportation for Michigan coalition, using seven types of transport (including legs) over three days to reach their destination.
"There are a lot of people who think you can't get across the state at all through means other than driving," said Megan Owens of the Detroit advocacy group Transportation Riders United. "We do want to point out that there are ways to get across ... but it is difficult and we do need improvements."
The group's journey kicks off Wednesday with a bus ride from Detroit Metro Airport to Detroit, a trip that requires a transfer from a metro Detroit SMART bus to a Detroit DDOT bus.
"There's an awful lot of people who are facing that everyday," Owens explained of the 21-mile ride. "If their jobs aren't regular 9 to 5 jobs, they're having to juggle two different bus companies just to get to work."
From Detroit, the group will go to Birmingham by SMART bus. On the second day, they'll take an Amtrak train to Kalamazoo and an Indian Trails bus to Grand Rapids, making the final leg of the trip to Traverse City on day three. The journey should include 18 hours of travel time altogether -- at least, that's the plan.
"It will be a bit of an adventure, and we did have to leave some leeway because things happen," Owens said. "We'll have to see if buses arrive and take us where they're supposed to, when they're supposed to."
The Odyssey, which welcomes participants to join the ride or follow along virtually on Twitter at #MIOdyssey, comes less than a month since DDOT announced big cuts ending nighttime bus service and reducing hours on several city lines, leaving many Detroit public transit riders frustrated. SMART bus cuts (some of which have affected the Odyssey's planned route) also went into effect late last year.
While the first leg of the Odyssey calls attention to the time and complication involved in getting from Michigan's only international airport to its biggest metropolitan area, the journey will also highlight some positive aspects of the state's transit climate, as legislators and advocates join the group.
Owens noted the state plans to purchase the 135-mile Michigan Line stretch of train track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo from the Norfolk Southern railroad company. The state hopes to boost speeds on the track, where speeds for passenger trains were recently reduced from 79 mph to 25-30 mph, according to the Detroit Free Press, causing significant delays.
Long-time plans for a Regional Transit Authority to oversee Southeast Michigan's transit network and make it more effective are still in the works, and three bills are being considered in the state Senate. Owens said the bills might not be perfect, but offer a compromise and a step forward.
Ultimately, the Transportation Odyssey organizers hope their trip will call attention to the existing transit options in Michigan and the importance of improving them.
"When you're trying to get from point A to point B, you don't have to just get in your car and fight your way through the traffic," Owens said.