D.S.R. Route #44
|IMPERIAL NORHTWEST EXPRESS
(The History of Expressway Bus Service in Detroit)
By the end of 1954, ten express bus routes were being operated by the DSR. All but one of these express
routes basically followed along major streetcar and bus lines. These "Express buses" would make local
stops along outlying areas of the city, but then operated on-street "Limited" service from certain points into
downtown. However, the completion of the John C. Lodge and Edsel B. Ford Expressways during the
mid-1950's would energize an attempt by the DSR to help win back its lost riders by providing so-called
"rapid transit" service through the use of express coaches utilizing both of the city's newly built
Even before the John C. Lodge Expressway was completed, the Hamilton Express route had already
become the DSR's first express line to operate along an expressway, after its buses were routed onto a
short portion of the Lodge, effective on December 4, 1950. The Hamilton Express buses were later
extended along the Lodge into downtown in September 1954. But it wasn't until after the first portion of the
Edsel B. Ford-John C. Lodge interchange opened on January 18, 1955, that more express buses would
begin to utilize the city's expressways to transport passengers into the downtown area.
On January 31, 1955, the Plymouth Express became the first express route to utilize both the John
Lodge and Edsel Ford Expressways. The Plymouth Express traveled via Plymouth, Wyoming and
McGraw to access the Ford, and then used the interchange to enter the Lodge into downtown. On
November 21, 1955, the Wyoming, McGraw, Ford and Lodge expressway routing was transferred to the
new Joy Road Express route, while Plymouth Express buses were rerouted further along the local
Plymouth line and then traveled via the John C. Lodge Expressway only.
Additional express bus routes were launched by the DSR that also began utilizing the city's expressways.
Beginning in February 1955, both the Ford and Lodge Expressways were used by the Dexter and Grand
River Express routes, but the expressway routing for both routes was discontinued in late 1956 after
proving to be not that much faster than the local service. On November 7, 1957, a new Fenkell Express
bus route was launched which also operated via the John Lodge Expressway, entering from Davison to
However, according to the publication "Detroit's DSR, Part 3" by Jack E. Schramm (Motor Coach Age -
May-June 1993 edition), an express service of a different kind was inaugurated on May 26, 1958. This new
express bus route would operate mostly over the John C. Lodge Expressway and the connecting James
Couzens Highway to Seven Mile and Inkster Road. It would be considered the "grandiose" of all DSR
express bus service, hence the new express line would be called the DSR's IMPERIAL NORTHWEST
EXPRESS. Although not the first DSR express route to utilize Detroit expressways, it was by far the
Detroit Free Press articles, for both May 26th
and 27th, dealt with how the DSR had gone all
out to inaugurate the new "Imperial
Northwest Express" bus line. That first bus
literally rolled out the red carpet, and was
complete with pretty hostesses, free rides,
refreshments and dignitaries.
Seated on board the inaugural bus that Monday
morning was then Mayor Louis Miriani,
members of the Street Railway Commission,
DSR general manager Leo J. Nowicki, and a
representative group of Northwest side
businessmen and civic leaders. In addition to
the current "Miss DSR" passing out free
donuts, milk and orange juice, the inaugural bus
was even laid-out with thick, red carpeting on
During the first two days of its operation bus
rides on the new line were free, and pretty Miss
DSR "bus hostesses" passed out milk, fruit
juice, dough-nuts, potato chips and chewing
gum, and "smiled sweetly" while greeting the
DSR patrons trying out the new service.
The new Seven Mile Road express would be
the DSR's longest express line, with one round
trip covering 35 miles. Buses traveled from
Inkster Road, along Seven Mile, James
Couzens and the new John C. Lodge
Expressway, downtown to the
City-County Building in less than 55 minutes. The DSR promised that the service from the end of the line to
downtown would be 20 minutes faster than previous local service. Buses would operate daily every 10
minutes during rush hours and every 30 minutes the rest of the day
The fare ranged from 45 cents at the end of the line to 25 cents nearer downtown. The fare was based on a
new express zone fare system the DSR had put into effect on all its express routes that same day.
However, the zone fare system was withdrawn shortly afterwards, after it had been pointed out that the
DSR didn't seek the proper channels for its approval. The express fare then returned to the previous fare of
a flat quarter.
|- Photo courtesy of DPS 1968 publication "DETROIT: A Manual for Citizens"
|This late-1950's era photo looks north along the John C. Lodge Expressway at the Edsel B.
Ford Expressway Interchange. A number of DSR express bus routes during the 1950's and
1960's began using the city's new expressways into and out of the downtown area.
Although expressway bus service had been promoted by the DSR during the early fifties as a preferred
alternative to building light rail lines along the new Detroit expressway system, it soon proved to be more of
a headache than an alternative. Proposed "bus only" lanes were never built, and buses were often delayed
in traffic back-ups along the expressways. The use of bus stops built along the Ford Expressway were
never used, and the push toward bus routes along the expressways dwindled. Although the Joy Road
Express buses continued to use the Ford Freeway for some years, that service was eventually withdrawn
as well. The Joy Road Express route was instead rerouted into downtown via Wyoming and Michigan
Avenue effective on October 3, 1965.
Over the years, a small number of express routes have operated over Detroit freeways. While the Fenkell,
Hamilton, Imperial and Plymouth Express buses continued to use the John C. Lodge Freeway, the
W. McNichols (Second) and Oakland Express buses began using the new Walter P. Chrysler (I-75)
Freeway. The John R.-Oakland (Oakland) Express began using the I-75 freeway on June 20, 1969,
while the Second Blvd. (W. McNichols) Express began its freeway service on January 17, 1972. The
most unusual of them all, however, was the DDOT #71 Crosstown Express via W. Warren Avenue,
which traveled via Grand River in the A.M., but would use the I-375, I-75 and I-96 Freeways on its return trip
to Rouge Park on the west-side in the evening.
Toward the end of the express bus era in Detroit, as many as twenty express routes were in operation by
the late seventies, with seven of the express routes operating over the freeways. Today, only three DDOT
"Limited" routes remain and only one other line (Plymouth) utilizes the Detroit freeway system. But despite
all of the hoop-la back in 1958, it could probably be stated that the Imperial Express has lived up to its
name after all these years. That grand 'ol DSR "IMPERIAL" line-of-lines back in 1958, still lives on
Information for the above article compiled from Detroit Free Press articles "And Now (Wowie!) DSR Bus Hostesses" (May 26, 1958),
"DSR Glamor Bus Rolls into Town" (May 27, 1958), The Detroit News article "DSR Riders Gripe, Some May Boycott Expresses"
(May 26, 1958), Detroit's DSR, Part 3 by Jack E. Schramm (May-June 1993 MCA), and other numerous sources. Express bus route's
effective dates courtesy of "DSR BUS ROUTES, 1945-1975" (May-June 1993 edition of Motor Coach Age magazine).
|DSR Glamor Bus Rolls into Town
|This photo, which appeared in the Tuesday, May 27, 1958, edition of
the Detroit Free Press, shows a DSR employee vacuuming the red
carpeting used on the inaugural bus of the DSR's new Imperial
Northwest Express bus route.