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How Many People Took The DAX Bus During The NFL Draft?

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you may remember coverage of Detroit Metro Airport and how historically antagonistic the agency has been to transit connectivity. Sure, you can take buses there– even though you wouldn’t believe it from the complete lack of signage in the airport itself. But ten years ago, the airport settled a lawsuit by passengers who argued that the airport did not maintain safe zones for bus unloading for disabled passengers. And since then, well, as I’ve written in the past, the airport makes so much money off parking fees that it has an active disincentive to encourage transit connectivity. The DAX bus, which provides direct access to downtown Detroit (across from the Westin-Book Cadillac Hotel) has at least promised to change that. I was curious, then: how many people rode the new DAX bus for the NFL Draft, which saw the better part of a million people descend on the Motor City for a few days in April?

The RTA’s Ben Stupka told us in a written statement:

“We are pleased to report that nearly 1,000 riders used the Detroit Air Xpress (DAX) service during the NFL draft weekend to travel between Downtown Detroit and the DTW airport. This is a remarkably high number, better than we expected, considering the pilot route was launched in late March – just one month before the draft.

The Airport has been a great partner in helping DAX get off to a hot start. They have promoted DAX through their digital channels and have deployed staff to assist riders access the service. We are exploring options to improve the wayfinding signage and distribution of materials for travelers who want to learn more about DAX operations.”

So, out of 775,000 people, 1,000 took the new airport bus. Of course, we can’t reliably divide the latter number into the former because plenty of attendees didn’t fly in but rather drove, and we can probably even assume that some might have even carpooled into Detroit. So, it’s not as though we can safely say that 0.13% of the attendees were served by the DAX bus, but nor do we even have accurate figures on how many additional passengers flew into DTW for a point of comparison. (The Detroit Metro Airport did not immediately respond to a request for comment).

But if ten percent of attendees flew in, a modeshare of 1.2%– airport passengers using the bus- is not terribly impressive.

It can be hard to find proper figures about how monumental events influence transit ridership, but we have a couple of points of comparison. We might, for example, consider purpose-built transit lines that connect to stadiums. An example would be the Hawkeye Express, operated by the Iowa Northern Railroad until 2021, which took people from Coralville (just outside Iowa City) to Kinnick Stadium. While the route traveled a distance of all of about four miles, it avoided landing thousands– if not tens of thousands- of extra cars on US-6, which is already a perpetual, sprawling mess.

The sheer magnitude of specific pop phenomena might also give us some indication. On her recent tour, concerts of the iconic Taylor Swift reportedly generated 43,000 additional bus and train trips on the CTA in Chicago, for example, and possibly as many as 100,000 additional trips on MARTA in Atlanta. A number of transit agencies reported expanding service to accommodate the increased traffic for these events specifically. Driving to a stadium or another huge events venue is mostly a nightmare. Getting there via transit is relatively stress-free in comparison.

Last night, we saw that Michigan Central drew tens of thousands of people out, many of whom have never spent any time in Corktown. The DAX bus, the 261, and other buses were rerouted because of this. There was, of course, plenty of space in Roosevelt Park, but the streets were unilaterally closed without attention to more efficient movement of people, while Ford parked buses in bike lanes and trucks on sidewalks and what not. Will the return of the Station make people think more about how efficient transit at moving large numbers of passengers, is in comparison to single-occupant automobiles?

It’s a strange world when Taylor Swift is doing more for mass transit than the collective agency of a city government, a quasi-public airport authority, and a so-called mobility company. Of course, I live in Detroit, so we have to speramus meliora. The DAX bus is great– I’ve taken it a number of times and I continue to preach the gospel. We just need all of the major trip generators (places like hotels) and the destination– the airport itself and the same hotels whence people are traveling to the airport- to get on board, enthusiastically and proactively. I’m sorry about your operating revenue, folks, but we need to get serious about decarbonization.

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