|IMPERIAL EXPRESS "LIMITED"
|THE D.S.R. "IMPERIAL" SERVICE ROLLS INTO TOWN:
The former DDOT route #78 Imperial Limited had its beginnings — amid much media hype — back on Monday, May
26, 1958. Free rides, refreshments, pretty hostesses, and even a bus decked out in red carpeting, all helped to usher
in the new route. Originally known as the "Imperial Northwest Express," the Detroit DSR promoted this line as its
alternative to "rapid transit" — sort of like a Detroit sub-way service, so to speak. This new "rapid transit" route was the
longest DSR route to travel along an expressway (nearly 7-½ miles), and was promoted as the "Deluxe" line among
the city's express routes. Supposedly, a new era in Detroit "rapid transit" bus service was being launched.
Around six o'clock that first morning, fourteen sparkling clean "large-capacity" GM diesel coaches — all loaded with
boxes of donuts, potato chips and milk (provided by DSR advertisers Farmcrest, Vita Boy and Wilson's Dairy) — were
ready and waiting at the Gilbert Terminal yard to launch the DSR's fast, new express bus service. After the young
attractive hostesses were hurried on board — each dressed as if going to a ball — the buses swung off the property
and headed to their destinations. "The Imperial Express was now on its way!"
The first bus in the group — which sported thick, red carpeting along the floor and steps — arrived at W. Seven Mile
and Grand River at 7:45 a.m. Waiting to board that inaugural bus was Detroit Mayor Louis C. Miriani, along with DSR
general manager Leo J. Nowicki, members of the DSR Commission, the Northwest Lions Club, and the city's
Municipal Parking director. Also on board was Barbara Gruendler, the Miss DSR for May, who passed out free
doughnuts, milk and orange juice to the riders. The inaugural bus arrived at the City-County Bldg at 8:40 a.m.
During the first two days of operation, rides on the new service were free. The pretty hostesses aboard each coach
wore a round tag that proclaimed, "Hello! My name is (Kay, Mary, etc.), What's yours?" and passed out milk, fruit juice,
doughnuts, potato chips and chewing gum, as they smiled and greeted the over 5,500 riders who boarded.
THE D.S.R. YEARS:
Initially, the Imperial Northwest Express provided service from Seven Mile and Inkster Roads in Redford Township to
the recently completed City-County Building in downtown Detroit. The coaches traveled via W. Seven Mile Road, then
southward along James Couzens Highway, which then connected with the new John C. Lodge Expressway at the
Wyoming curve; where the coaches began their expressway operation. After exiting the Lodge at Temple, the buses
traveled via Temple, Third, Henry, Woodward and Larned streets to the City-County Building at Randolph.
In the beginning, the Imperial coaches operated every ten minutes during peak hours and 30 minutes during off-peak
hours; Monday through Friday. Although a special express bus zone-fare was implemented initially — where fares
varied from 45¢ to 25¢ — the previous 25¢ fare (5¢ over the regular fare) was reinstated on August 11. However, a 5¢
fare increase by the DSR on July 1, 1959, would result in the express fare increasing to 30¢.
During the early sixties, work began on transforming the scenic James Couzens Highway north of Wyoming into the
James Couzens Expressway — which was constructed right through the center median of that wide super-highway.
Meanwhile, the Imperial coaches would continue to enter and exit the Lodge at Wyoming, operating locally along the
service drive. The former James Couzens Highway now served as the new expressway's service drive. Also by the
early sixties, many DSR publications began referring to the line as the "Seven Mile Imperial Express."
By the mid-1960s, headways on the Seven Mile Imperial Express had improved to 3 to 4 minutes during peak hours
and 20 minutes during midday hours. Meanwhile, the year 1966 would bring a number of changes to the northwest
end of the Imperial route. Effective Sept. 7, 1966, service along Seven Mile to Inkster Road in Redford Township was
discontinued and the route cut back to the Detroit city limits at Seven Mile Road and Grand River.
However, also effective that day, a few peak-hour trips were routed to Eight Mile Road and Grand River. This service
would branch off Seven Mile Road at Lasher and run north to Eight Mile, then west to Inkster Road, looping at Grand
River. This branch operation was the result of the Imperial Express replacing portions of the Eight Mile West bus line,
which was also discontinued on Sept. 7, 1966. In addition, some morning and afternoon trips were operated as a
shuttle service, following the entire Eight Mile West route, from McNichols and Lahser, via Lahser and Eight Mile Road
to Grand River. Two 5¢ zone fares were also collected along Eight Mile Road, outside the city limits.
Also in 1966, the DSR began assigning route numbers to its bus routes. The Seven Mile Road express route would
now become route #44 Imperial Express.
Aside from two fare increases (including a 5¢ increase in 1968) that increased the express fare to 45¢ by 1970, the
service on the Imperial Express would basically remain unchanged through the remaining DSR years. The Imperial
bus service would continue to offer many far northwest-side city residents a fast, convenient and dependable means
of transportation to downtown Detroit. The Imperial Express was also popular with many city employees who worked
at the City-County Building in downtown Detroit.
THE EARLY D-DOT YEARS:
By the time the DSR was reorganized as DDOT in 1974, headways had increased slightly, and now averaged 4 to 6
minutes during peak hours and 28 minutes during midday hours. In 1975, DDOT would assign new route number to
all its routes, with route #44 Imperial Express becoming DDOT route #78 Imperial Express. During the DDOT years,
a number of route and service improvements were actually made to the Imperial line. But unfortunately, even the
grand "Imperial" name couldn't escape the line from the impending service reductions that would later follow.
During the late-1980s, service along Seven Mile was extended eight miles west to Northville Psychiatric Hospital in
Northville (west of Haggerty Road), which would also include providing service into the Livonia Mall at Seven Mile and
Middlebelt roads. DDOT would still continue to use its Imperial Express coaches to provide the shuttle service
between Lahser and McNichols to Eight Mile and Grand River (Inkster Road) during the AM and PM rush hours — in
addition to its branch service via Lahser to Eight Mile and Grand River. The Imperial coaches also began providing
evening shuttle service along Seven Mile Road between the Livonia Mall and Grand River. This service operated
between the hours of 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. after the regular express operation had ended for the day.
Since the first day service was launched back in May 1958 — when GM "old-look" coaches were first used to service
the line — the Imperial Express route has been serviced primarily by 40-foot coaches. However, beginning in the fall
of 1989, one of the 60-foot, 65-passenger Neoplan "articulated" coaches (#8900-8913) saw service on the Imperial
line. However, this service was short-lived, as the "artic" coaches were eventually used on other lines.
By the 1990s, headways now averaged 10 mins during AM peak, 15 mins during PM, and 20 mins during the off-peak
hours. But the 1990s would also see the beginning of the steady downward decline in Imperial Express service.
Effective, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1992, the extended trips along Seven Mile Road to the Northville Hospital in Northville were
discontinued, and the route now terminated at the Livonia Mall. This continued until major route changes
implemented by DDOT took effect beginning June 25, 1994, and Imperial Express service along Seven Mile Road was
again cut back — this time to the city limits at Seven Mile and Grand River.
Meanwhile, equipment shortages during the late 1980s had already taken a toll on most of DDOT's express service,
as the department struggled to meet its scheduled pull-outs. Emphasis then shifted to providing local service, with
most of the express runs (previously top priority) being filled only if equipment became available. Eventually, many of
the express routes were discontinued, while those that did remain were left with fewer trips. In 1975, DDOT operated
a total of twenty express routes, but by the fall of 1992, only five of those routes — including the Imperial Express —
were still in operation.
THE LATER D-DOT YEARS:
It might also be noted, that toward the late 1980s, DDOT began operating a slightly different type of express service.
Although some "Express" routes remained, many were now being designated as "Limited" service routes — a semi-
express with a basic fare. By the mid-1990s, the few remaining express routes, including the Imperial Express, were
now "Limited" routes, with boarding and exiting only at predetermined stops.
Although the "Imperial Limited" continued operations, the service definitely began falling on hard times, as system-
wide service reductions implemented by DDOT over the years would continue to affect service. Consequently, as the
ridership numbers fell, the headways would continue to increase. By 1992, service operated only during peak hours,
however, midday service was again restored in 1996. By 1997, headways had increased to 15 minutes during peak
hours, and 30 minutes during midday hours.
Unfortunately, the downward trend continued. By the mid-2000s, service had diminished to 20 to 30 minute
headways, and only operated during the peak service hours of 5:00 to 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 7:30 p.m. In addition,
only two rush hour trips were made over the former Eight Mile West bus route — operating only as far west as the
Detroit city limits at Eight Mile Road and Five Points.
Even if one were to disregard all of the media hype back in 1958, it could probably still be stated that the Imperial
Express line had lived up to its name for nearly 54 years. That grand old "IMPERIAL" line-of-lines, launched by the
DSR back in May of 1958, outlived all other city express routes; some even by decades. Unfortunately, it can also be
stated that the once grand 'ol mighty one of many decades gone bye has indeed fallen from grace!
For more on the initial launching of the Imperial Express line, and the history of expressway bus service in Detroit, see
the related article: "HISTORY OF EXPRESSWAY BUS OPERATION IN DETROIT."
THE END OF AN ERA IN DETROIT TRANSIT
After nearly 61-½ years, the era of expressway bus operation in the city of Detroit has come to a close. The
implementation by DDOT of service cutbacks, effective Saturday, March 3, 2012, brought an end to nearly 54
years of service on Route #78 Imperial Limited. The Imperial line had been the last expressway bus route left
operating in the city, a service first launched by the Detroit DSR system back on December 4, 1950. Eight years
later, the DSR would launch its "de luxe" expressway route; the Imperial Express.
This photo (WEBSITE) shows DDOT coach #4188 laying-over on Larned at Randolph at 4:15 p.m. while working
route #78 Imperial Limited on the route's last day of operation, Friday, March 2, 2012.
Information for the above article compiled from the article "Introducing the Imperial Express" (May-June 1958 edition of DSR Reporter);
from various Detroit News and Free Press newsarticles (May 1958); route data supplied by Jack E. Schramm, courtesy of "DSR Bus
Routes, 1945-1975" (May-June 1993 edition of Motor Coach Age magazine), in addition to information supplied by DDOT Senior Service
Inspector Dennis Grooms – posted at the "DSR-2-DOT" Yahoo! discussion group. Additional info compiled from miscellaneous DDOT
Route Service Maps and various DDOT service adjustment bulletins in the author's possession. All Imperial Expresss transfers courtesy
of the Stanley Sycko Collection.
© 2006 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (TXV 10-23-14)
NOTE: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED AND CAN BE VIEWED ON ORIGINAL WEBSITE PAGE
To visit original website version of this page see: www.detroittransithistory.info/Routes/ImperialExpress.html
|This 1969 DSR Route-Map shows the #44 Imperial Express route from 1966 through the remaining DSR years.
PRINTER–FRIENDLY TEXT VERSION: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS PAGE
D.S.R. Route #44