Transit startup wants to get people around in southeast Michigan

Transit startup wants to get people around in southeast Michigan

PHOTO: J Singleton

DETROIT —  A website that launched by publishing the schedule and map of a mock mass transit system in southeast Michigan is blooming into a full-fledged public transportation advocacy and management venture.

The team behind the fictitious Freshwater Railway has been busy transforming themselves from snarky mass transit critics into a transit advocacy and management firm called Freshwater Transit. 

Their goal? Revise and run southeast Michigan's transportation system and establish an employee base of transit professionals and experts who actually care about transportation. 

In the years since its inception, the creators behind the realistic Freshwater website went from fielding e-mails about the rail and bus system's actual existence to holding public awareness events and developing plans and proposals so they can have their say when it comes to management.

Neil Greenberg

"The long-term goal of this is to put people who know transit in the driver's seat," said Freshwater Transit Co-Founder Neil Greenberg. "As in, do the research, execute positive action, and just maybe, operate the actual transit service." 

They made a brief documentary about the state of transportation in Detroit and Michigan and a film about their goals as a company, including a potential route they would build. 

And even though they're technically a new company, that doesn't make them novices when it comes to managing transportation and business.

Greenberg cut his transit chops by developing transit systems and schedules and by co-founding CSG airBus, a bus line that transports University of Michigan students to and from Metro Airport. Although he lives in Michigan, he spends several months out of the year developing transit schedules and maps for Metrolink, a passenger rail company in California.

Greenberg is a details kind of guy and wants to know why no one is talking about the actual transportation aspect of a regional transportation authority that Michigan's officials have been clamoring over for 40 years. He says people get caught up in the big picture and what it should look like rather than when and where it should actually run.

"Long story short, we're trying to align a crew of professionals — frustrated and knowledgeable professionals — to take the reins on transit issues," Greenberg said. "This is a step beyond traditional advocacy in that we're aiming for semi-official status to mold, improve and develop the transit system."

If Greenberg is a details guy, he found good company in Freshwater Transit Co-Founder and business partner Stephen Maiseloff, who as it turns out, as a strategist, is also a details guy. 

While Greenberg is busy making transit schedules and speaking about transit at TEDxDetroit, Maiseloff steers the Freshwater helm and makes sure the company is viable as well as visible. He coordinates film and event productions, writes e-mail blasts, organizes fundraising opportunities, manages social media and more. 

"This is a step beyond traditional advocacy in that we're aiming for semi-official status to mold, improve and develop the transit system." - Neil Greenberg

In his spare time, Maiseloff catalogues pedestrian bridges in Detroit and is creating a survey instrument that measures more than 60 bridges' functionality. 

Greenberg and Maiseloff may not have funds for an office yet, but they have been holding regular meeting hours at Park Bar in Downtown Detroit on Mondays to answer questions and hear suggestions. They're on holiday break now, but they expect to resume meetings there in early 2013 and they encourage everyone who's interested to stop by and talk transit.

Get involved with Freshwater Transit

In the meantime, you can get involved with the Freshwater Transit by taking their survey or by participating in the Transportation for Michigan's "Share your story" contest.

Freshwater Transit is asking you for a short video about you, your neighborhood, your commute and how you would change or build a transit system. It can be short and unedited, and if the team can get enough movies submitted on its behalf, they can win a $1,000 grant. 

Read contest details

And if you just can't wait to take the survey or visit these guys at their office hours, send them an e-mail! Neil@fwtransit.org and Stephen@fwtransit.org.

Mode Shift will keep you updated on Freshwater's meeting times and events in 2013, so stay tuned!

Do you think a startup company can run mass transit in southeast Michigan and Detroit? Let us know in the comments below.