Updated on 10/27/20
Not surprisingly, Detroit lives up to its Motor City moniker with wide boulevards and multiple connecting freeways. But this isn’t just a car city. The country’s 24th most populated city makes it easy for 120,000 daily riders to hop onto public transit stress-free. The Detroit Department of Transportation, DDOT (local to Detroit) and SMART route buses (Southeastern Michigan) service Detroit and its surrounding suburbs, along with the QLINE streetcar, which was introduced in 2017. While there may not be an underground subway system, trust us, the bus system’s a breeze to navigate. Some of the DDOT buses even offer free WiFi and, of course, air conditioning and heating during inclement weather to keep you comfortable.
How to Ride the DDOT and SMART Buses, and QLINE Streetcar
The one-stop shop for bus and streetcar service in Detroit (which consists of 48 routes), DDOT is used by locals to get to work, enjoy sports entertainment in downtown Detroit, or have a safe night out. You may find that riding the DDOT takes longer than hopping behind the wheel of a rental car, but if the city is new to you, this is the way to go (just bring a good book and enjoy seeing the city’s neighborhoods and attractions as you pass them by).
- DDOT Fares: Rides on DDOT buses are now sold as “passes.” This means no transfer fees and you get unlimited rides for one price. A four-hour Dart pass is $2; a 24-hour pass, $5; and a 7-day pass, $22. Many locals opt for the 31-day Dart pass, for an affordable $70. For seniors (ages 65 and older), people with disabilities, Medicare recipients and students with a school-issued ID receive a discount, and must process a Reduced Fare application at one of three centers, including the Rosa Parks Transit Center.
- SMART Fares: A SMART fare runs $2, with a discounted $0.50 fare for youth (between the ages of 6 and 18), adults older than 65 and people with disabilities.Value-oriented DDOT and SMART passes are sold at $10 ($11 value) and $20 ($22 value). A 31-day pass costs $66. Passes can also be bought for those requiring reduced fares.
- QLINE Fares: For the QLINE streetcar, the fare for a single ride of up to four hours costs $2. A day pass ($5) suits most travelers’ needs.
- Routes and Hours: Local bus routes run daily but their frequency—and hours—varies by the day. Routes begin around 5 a.m., stretching until 12:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday service is abbreviated, running between 7 a.m. and either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. (depending on the route). Real-time tracking is available via the Dart app. Of the 48 DDOT routes, 11 routes run 24 hours and six are labeled as express, which means they connect neighborhoods to major job centers (Downtown and Midtown). SMART offers 47 fixed routes, operating between 4:47 a.m. and midnight. QLINE runs on a 6.6-mile route serving 12 locations on Woodward Avenue (also called M-1) from downtown Detroit, traveling through Midtown, New Center and the North End. QLINE streetcars run between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday.
- Service Alerts: Stay tuned to the websites for DDOT, SMART, and QLINE about any disruptions in service. This is also a good case for downloading the app for each before your trip because, should you need to reroute, it will be a breeze to recalculate your journey.
- Transfers: As of fall 2019, transfers are no longer needed. Rates on DDOT and SMART include transfers and are sold by a set time period (i.e., 4 hours). Transfers between QLINE and either DDOT or SMART cost $0.25.
- Accessibility: All of DDOT’s and SMART’s buses and routes are ADA accessible to people with disabilities, including ramps and lifts to board, and a ramp to easily get off the bus. For more information about accessibility, including paratransit vans, check out the DDOT website and SMART’s website. QLINE is similarly equipped to accommodate passengers with physical-mobility concerns. To learn more, check out this link on its website. Stops are also announced using both audio and digital displays.
How to Pay for the DDOT and SMART Buses, and QLINE Streetcar
There are a lot of convenient methods for purchasing your fare on the DDOT and SMART buses as well as the QLINE streetcar.
- Fare Cards: Most locals in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan opt to buy a fare card for DDOT or SMART so they aren’t fumbling for exact change when boarding a bus or streetcar. A complete list of fare card purchase locations are listed on the DDOT site, and include CVS stores, various markets and stores, and DDOT’s administrative offices. You can also buy day passes at those locations.
- Mobile Ticketing: To purchase QLINE tickets through your phone, first download the QLINE Detroit mobile app for iPhone or Android. For DDOT and SMART ticketing, download the Dart app for iPhone or Android.
- Cash: You can buy QLINE tickets using cash at any QLINE station. Tickets can also be purchased at the Rosa Parks Transit Center, 360 Michigan Ave., Detroit; or DDOT’s offices (during business hours only). Similarly, you can pay for a fare with cash (exact change) on board any DDOT or SMART bus.
- Credit Card: You can buy QLINE tickets using a credit card at any QLINE station. Tickets can also be purchased at the Rosa Parks Transit Center or DDOT’s offices (during business hours only). Similarly, you can pay for a DDOT or SMART pass with a credit card at any of these locations.
Park and Rides
Commuters residing in the suburbs are heavy users of park-and-rides, which are lots where you can park the car and access direct public transportation into the city.
Detroit’s bike-share system, MoGo, launched in 2017 and now has 75 stations. A pre-paid pass for two hours of riding costs $18 while a monthly (30-day) pass is an affordable $20. For more on pricing, check out this link on MoGo’s website.
Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps
Like any major U.S. city, Uber and Lyft (two common ride-sharing apps) have a presence in Detroit, servicing urban neighborhoods, the suburbs and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. You will also find taxis throughout Detroit.
Renting a Car
If you’d prefer to have your own wheels, consider renting a car in Detroit. Except for a few densely populated neighborhoods in Detroit’s urban center, parking is not hard to find, nor is it expensive, when compared to other U.S. destinations. This also gives you the freedom to come and go as you please and perhaps expand your footprint while in Detroit. Note that many hotels charge an overnight parking rate so it’s best to review that in advance so you are not hit with sticker shock upon check-out.
Tips for Getting Around Detroit
- Don’t go to Canada by accident. Border crossings at the Canadian border are never quick and easy. By “accidentally” crossing into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, via the Ambassador Bridge, which leads to Windsor in the Canadian province of Ontario, you could find yourself in a time-consuming situation. You also might not have your passport in hand, which could lead to a serious delay on return (a passport is required for U.S. citizens’ reentry to the U.S., and for non-U.S. citizens to enter Canada).
- Avoid downtown during rush hour. Like most cities, there is a morning (7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and an evening rush hour (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) when behind the wheel. If you can be flexible with your travel plans, either depart earlier than normal or prolong your arrival, whichever makes most sense.
- Download the DDOT app. Do you really want to be sweating at the station or shivering at the stop? By downloading the DDOT app (dubbed “Dart app”) ahead of your trip, you’ll be prepared—and not late.
- Snow means slow. Whether you hail from a wintry climate and are used to snow, or think driving during a snowstorm is a recipe for your personal disaster, know that even the locals drive cautiously when flakes start to fall in Detroit. Allow enough time—plus extra time—to reach your destination if driving. DDOT schedules, too, can be thrown off during a snowstorm but by viewing real-time arrivals in the app, you can be prepared.