Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” Must Support a Strong Regional Transit Plan

Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” : Duggan, Evans, Patterson, and Hackel.

For nearly a year, the Regional Transit Authority for metro Detroit has been working with consultants to craft a new transit plan for the four-county region.

That plan will shape the content of a tax proposal which could be the biggest step towards transportation freedom in decades in this region.

If the proposal secures support from the “Big Four” regional leaders, including Mayor Duggan, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, it would go on the ballot for the region’s people to vote on this November.

When the RTA unveiled its planning effort in downtown Detroit last May, it intended to have a draft plan ready for public viewing by December. That hasn’t happened. Not only was a six-month turnaround an ambitious timeline, but none of the Big Four have yet taken a public position on a transit tax proposal, throwing the plan’s future into doubt.

The Freedom Riders hoped to have a draft plan to comment on by this time. Yet, on account of the delay, we’ve decided we can’t wait any longer. We’re launching a petition to the Big Four, the men who pull the strings on the RTA, asking them to support a regional transit plan that would include three critical components. We believe the Big Four need to get behind a transit plan that would double existing funding for transit in the region; create new regional rapid transit lines; and reserve half of new funding for expanded local bus service.

We believe these three asks are reasonable and necessary, for the following reasons.

  1. Public transit in metro Detroit is severely underfunded.
Per capita transit funding

It goes without saying that metro Detroit’s investment in public transit is a fraction of that in leading metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. However, metro Detroit also invests far less in public transit than comparable metropolitan areas, such as St. Louis, Atlanta, and Cleveland. To bring the region up to par with other metro areas, the regional transit plan must, at minimum, double our region’s existing local investment in transit, which is roughly $130 million per year at present.

  1. Metro Detroit lacks real rapid transit.

    Bus rapid transit, Cleveland

With the exception of a handful of express bus routes, metro Detroit lacks the rapid transit services which exist in most other major metro areas. Our sprawling region requires rapid transit service along major corridors – including Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan Avenue, and others – to allow faster and more convenient travel and spur redevelopment in older cities. In many cases, bus rapid transit lines, including buses running in dedicated lanes, would allow cost-effective reuse of existing, overbuilt roadways.

  1. Our bus systems must be expanded, not curtailed.

With the exception of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA), all of the region’s bus systems have drastically reduced service over the past decade – not for lack of need, but in consequence of limited available revenues (see above). We believe a regional transit plan should reserve half of all new regional transit revenues for the existing bus systems, including DDOT, SMART­­­­, and AAATA. As the RTA’s “State of the System” report indicates, not only is existing local bus service limited in its coverage area, but only a handful of bus routes – primarily those on major roads such as Woodward, Gratiot, and Grand River – provide the frequent service necessary for convenient transit access. We must not only enhance those routes, but expand crosstown service as well.

transit frequencies
Existing weekday peak hour bus frequencies. Dark red = 15 minutes or better.

We kicked off this new petition drive at Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson’s State of the County address in Pontiac last week. We’ll be speaking to the Regional Transit Authority about it at their Thursday, Feb. 18 meeting, and canvassing outside Detroit Mayor Duggan’s State of the City address next week as well. (We hope you’ll join us!)

The petition is directed at the “Big Four,” rather than the RTA itself, because it’s they who hold the power. They appoint the RTA board members whose votes are required to place a tax proposal on the ballot, and their actions will in large part determine whether or not that measure, if placed on the ballot, will pass. If the Big Four fail to champion this transit measure with their constituents, it will be a far more difficult campaign.

We hope to obtain meetings with the Big Four and their representatives in the coming months to urge them to support a strong regional transit plan. This is a critical time for transit, and we need our elected officials to step up to the plate.

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3 Replies to “Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” Must Support a Strong Regional Transit Plan”

  1. I live and work on Michigan Ave and there are presently no coordinated bus schedules making the DDOT and SMART buses run side by side with one empty.

    Also, we need STRONG support to get the full10 percent of the gas tax.
    We need many revenue sources and the small paltry 1 mil tax is obviously not enough and we all know this. So, unless the RTA can address this issue and get good bus service on Michigan Ave and other places, I think the BEST plan is to directly challenge the RTA to be smart and connect all the ddots. I’m sure this will work, if we all work together and are considerate of each other.

    If I can get support, I will repost my Website. I helped SMART program radios and computers demonstrating how this can fill the buses on the airport and downtown bus lines but had to quit because of no support and the Livonia opt out YES, buses can be full which is needed to help justify costs and no, this does not mean we do not need more tax dollars. But, without using technology to remove cars and trucks from overcrowded roads and lowering costs and putting safety first with 24 hour bus service to downtown Detroit using multiple tax and revenue sources, does your organization really want to support the RTA tax??????

  2. Harold,

    We absolutely agree that coordination between SMART and DDOT is important – although we’ve found that both DDOT and SMART buses are frequently standing room only, given the limited service we have. We also agree on the need for restoring more 24-hour service.

    We, too, would like to see more funding for regional transit, beyond the 1.2 mills being discussed. But that would be a big step forward – more than doubling existing transit funding in the region. The RTA plan includes improved service on Michigan Avenue and many other routes. So we’re proud to support it as a major step towards better transit.

    Thanks for your interest, and we look forward to continuing the conversation!

    Joel Batterman

  3. Please sign my petition at

    I have since retired but am very sad to see Detroit with little more then small property taxes to pay for the riders. If Greater Detroit is to ever get a World Class top notch transit system instead of a mediocre one, the buses need to be full and most money must come from the passengers. In all cases where there is great service, it is the passengers that mostly pay.

    There is just simply no excuse for the RTA, SMART, DDOT, AAATA, the people mover, AMTRAK and all public and private transportation providers and MDOT freeway planners who know very well that not providing money to move cars off the roads to ALL work together anymore. That is primarily why the RTA vote failed and why the August 2018 should be capped by a majority vote of NO in my opinion, unless SMART, DDOT and the RTA sign my petition or challenge it to do something to get passenger support instead of reliance on property owners and proposed local sales tax increases. My petition will help get them out of their nice offices and out of their big cars to understand what needs to be done, but only if it gets very public and signed by your organization and everyone else or same.

    Or, please come up with a better plan and I challenge you and your organization to do that. There is not much time between now and August 2018 when SMART and the RTA come back with their plans. And if they don’t fill the buses, then you will again see Greater Detroit get at best a mediocre rail and bus system due to the incompetence of just plain laziness of not going after those who can and will make a profit by supporting the automobile industries. That is what you and your organization could get, if you don’t get my website well known and challenge it in public or same.

    Harold Leese

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