Documentary Will Explore What Metro Detroit Can Learn From Other Cities About Transit

UPDATE: Freshwater Transit started their Patronicity crowdfunding campaign -- www.Patronicity.com/15MOB

Freshwater Transit is making a splash with local transportation advocates, organizing field trips to see how high-speed bus systems are implemented in other places like Cleveland. Now the transit services company is taking that basic premise and applying it to something much more ambitious.

Freshwater's team has set their sights on creating an hour-long documentary that will delve into how transit works in seven different U.S. cities, contrasting them with the situation here in Metro Detroit.

The movie, "15 Minutes or Better," will explore what lessons the cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, Cleveland, Kansas City, Houston, Portland and Washington D.C. have to offer folks living in Southeast Michigan. Freshwater’s goal is to make it available free online, so anyone can view it. A promo trailer can be seen here

It’s impeccable timing for a project of this nature, coming at a moment when Southeast Michigan's RTA is mulling over a 2016 millage proposal and laying the groundwork for a regional bus rapid transit line.

Freshwater’s producers are consciously steering away from investigations of top-of-the-line transit cities like New York and Chicago in order to focus on places that are more similar to Detroit. The basic idea is to give viewers a first-hand look at effective transit in action.

“We want to bring these big concepts in transit to life,” said Freshwater Co-Founder and Vice President Stephen Maiseloff. “We want to show, not simply tell, what frequency looks like in Kansas City where state and political boundaries take a backseat. They have Eight Mile Road too. It’s the border of Kansas and Missouri, and transit crosses that line all the time.”

The film’s name was inspired by a digital sign at a Toronto train station that reads "Six minutes or better" when a train is coming. According to Maiseloff, 15 minutes is "the rallying point" for the Metro Detroit region. He says every connection and every transit line should be frequent, reliable, and arrive within 15 minutes or better.

For those who haven’t heard of Freshwater Transit, it’s a Detroit-based company specializing in transportation marketing and planning services. As far-fetched as it sounds, the organization sprung out of Freshwater Railway, a fictitious Michigan transit system dreamed up by a planner named Neil Greenberg, who posted his hypothetical maps, routes and schedules online in 2011. His idea attracted the attention of Freshwater co-founders Tom Choske and Stephen Maiseloff who helped morph Greenberg's passion into an actual business.

They now have a part-time team of about ten people organizing public hearings, putting together focus groups and leading trips on transit-related topics. A recent job for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, for example, has had Freshwater conducting a feasibility study for a potential wheeled trolley and water taxi system that would service Belle Isle and Detroit's RiverWalk.

Their newest project, the documentary, doesn’t come from a client. Freshwater’s team came up with the idea themselves this May as a logical extension of their outings.

“15 Minutes Or Better” is intended to serve as visual reference for folks who want to know more about transit. Maiseloff sees it as a tool advocates can use to educate friends and family, as well as a resource that will appeal to younger folks accustomed to learning through social-media.

"We can't put an ad up here and expect the whole region to understand," he says, "We can't make our points from [our headquarters] in Grand Circus Park. So we have to go to these places to show what frequency is, what speed is, what accessibility is."

Right now, the company is focusing on raising the funds to make "15 Minutes Or Better" happen. They've set a goal of $50,000 to produce the documentary and plan to finance it through a combination of grants, crowdfunding and donations from businesses.

Maiseloff says Freshwater is currently in talks with several high-profile Michigan-based businesses to secure funding. The group plans to have a crowdfunding campaign on Patronicity by early February.

Trevor Schrodt, the filmmaker who produced the promo has been chosen as the project’s videographer. Freshwater has also picked a handful of folks to work on the film, but Maiseloff says there's still time for others to get involved with the local aspects of filming, possibly as volunteers. He’s also interested in public feedback.

“Watch our trailer, and let us know what you think,” he says. “It's not perfect, but it’s something that we want to build off of.”

Production is slated to begin on “15 Minutes Or Better” this coming summer. The film won’t actually be released until at least the end of 2015.

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