It’s Time to Rally for Real Regional Transit

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

UPDATE: Note that the Detroit rally will now be happening at Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit.

The champagne will be flowing on Friday, May 12, when the 3-mile, $140 million QLINE streetcar opens to a planned celebration by “local officials and dignitaries.”

But what about real regional transit that serves the needs of riders and doesn’t just duplicate existing service? Or that helps to patch the gaps left by the massive cuts to our bus systems over the past decade?

No one in the Detroit region’s political elite seems to know – or care. After the narrow 51%-49% defeat of the Regional Transit Authority ballot proposal in the Trumpocalytic election of November 2016, transit allies are staying quiet, while the enemies of transit are, to paraphrase Yeats, “full of passionate intensity.”

Witness, for example, Oakland and Macomb County’s efficient ousting of RTA CEO Michael Ford, who was unceremoniously relieved of his position last month. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel blamed Ford for the defeat of the RTA proposal, conveniently omitting mention that Hackel, under the malign influence of Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, had refused to support or campaign for the measure himself.

We can’t let this political inertia continue. Not when every day, thousands of people, and our entire region, are held back by the lack of effective transportation. It’s time to rally for real regional transit and hold our politicians accountable.

We’re hosting rallies at three locations on Friday, May 12, to coincide with the opening of the QLINE streetcar. The biggest will be in Detroit, 8-10 am, at Grand Circus Park downtown. (Join and share the Facebook event at this link.) We can’t let the region’s political elite celebrate their streetcar without reminding them (and the media) of the continuing transit crisis in our region, a crisis they have a moral responsibility to address by putting a transit plan back on the ballot in 2018.

We’re also holding sister rallies in downtown Ann Arbor that morning (link) and in downtown Ferndale that evening (link) to demonstrate that there’s demand in the suburbs as well as the city, and that we demand action not only from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Wayne County Executive Mark Hackel, but from the suburban leadership: Patterson, Hackel, and Washtenaw County leaders.

These rallies will kick off a call-in and petition campaign targeting these regional leaders. Transit is a huge public need – and if they refuse to lead on the issue, the people will. Spread the word. We’ll see you on the buses and in the streets.

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“Massive Transit Tax” Would Cost Average Metro Detroit Homeowner Three Coneys Per Month

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Bus rapid transit on Michigan Avenue (left) and one of Lafayette’s finest (right).

How much would it cost? That’s one of the most common questions about the regional transit proposal on tomorrow’s ballot.

The folks opposing the regional transit plan for metro Detroit call it a “massive transit tax” – as you might infer from the name of their website, NoMassiveTransitTax.org. (The group apparently consists of a few deep-pocketed donors and former Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, who headed the 2006 initiative to repeal affirmative action in Michigan.)

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that we have a different perspective.

The 1.2-mill property tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $120 per year, or $10/month. The average home in metro Detroit is worth less than $200,000, though, so the average homeowner would pay about $95 per year, or less than $8 per month. (In the city of Detroit, of course, the average home is worth rather less than the regional average, meaning most Detroiters would pay an even smaller amount.)

Today, as the vote approaches, we decided to do our own investigating. We stopped by the hallowed corner of Michigan and Lafayette to calculate how much the transit proposal would cost in terms of one of the Detroit region’s most-purchased consumer goods. Continue reading ““Massive Transit Tax” Would Cost Average Metro Detroit Homeowner Three Coneys Per Month”

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RTA Win Would Mean Big Boost for DDOT

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DDOT service on Grand River would get a major boost under the RTA proposal.

As Election Day rolls around, a number of bus riders have been asking us what the RTA ballot proposal would mean for DDOT bus service in Detroit.

In brief: a lot. If the “Yes” votes prevail on November 8, DDOT service would be increased by more than 25%. In addition to brand-new routes connecting Detroit and the suburbs, there would be more buses on existing DDOT routes, making for shorter waits for riders. The number of buses on the road would increase dramatically, to a peak of 258. See the chart below for details.

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And moreover, that’s all assuming that no surplus DDOT service on bus rapid transit corridors – that is, Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan – would be reallocated to less serviced routes. Since the RTA would be providing frequent rapid transit service on those corridors, it could be possible for DDOT to reduce the number of buses on those routes, and instead provide more service on crosstown routes. (Obviously, that’d have to be done carefully; there’d still need for continued DDOT service in order to serve the stops in between bus rapid transit stations.)

The bottom line: the RTA ballot proposal would give long-suffering DDOT a much-needed boost. Continue reading “RTA Win Would Mean Big Boost for DDOT”

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Oakland County Would Get Biggest Benefits from RTA Plan

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SMART’s 710-Nine Mile route is just one of many suburban transit routes that would receive vastly improved service under the RTA transit plan that Oakland County leaders decry.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have unleashed a media assault against the Regional Transit Authority’s 20-year transit plan for metropolitan Detroit. They charge that the plan “fails on virtually every level,” threatens the suburban SMART bus system, disproportionately benefits the cities of Detroit and Ann Arbor, and represents “taxation without transportation” for suburbanites.

We have to wonder if they’re looking at the same plan that we are.

In fact, the RTA plan yields the greatest benefits to Oakland and Macomb County; greatly enhances SMART bus service; and focuses some of the most prominent new transit investments on “opt-out” suburbs that would be taxed at a lower level than their peers under the plan. In summary:

  • Oakland County would receive the largest transit investment of any jurisdiction: $1.3 billion.
  • SMART would receive the biggest additional funding boost, $35 million annually, of any existing transit provider.
  • The RTA plan extends transit to major Oakland County job centers, including Rochester Hills, Novi, and Highland, that currently receive no transit service.

We’ve prepared this analysis with the assistance of transit planner Steve Wiltse. Read on for details.

Continue reading “Oakland County Would Get Biggest Benefits from RTA Plan”

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

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

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Lack of Funding Will Limit Proposed Express Service

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On January 21st, staff from the metro region’s two major bus systems gathered in a downtown office high above the Detroit River in a show of unity. It’s no secret that DDOT and SMART have often acted as competitors, rather than partners, battling for turf and for the region’s woefully small pool of transit funding. Yet as chunks of ice floated down the river below, DDOT and SMART attempted to show the Regional Transit Authority board that there’d been a thaw in their chilly relationship.

DDOT head Dan Dirks and SMART chief John Hertel were on hand, but this was clearly Neil Greenberg’s show. Greenberg, DDOT Director of Service Development and Scheduling, may be best known to many people for dreaming up the Freshwater Railway fantasy transit maps, which laid out a vision for a regional rail system in metro Detroit. He’s also worked at SMART, and his enthusiasm for transit made him a natural for bringing the two agencies together.

The “refleX” proposal Greenberg put forward was, in many ways, a model for how transit in the metro region could work better. (Read the full document here, courtesy of the Oakland Press.) However, the service’s limited stops raise equity concerns, and the limited funding for the service will make it so infrequent as to threaten its success. Continue reading “Lack of Funding Will Limit Proposed Express Service”

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Biden Buses Good…But Won’t Get Where the Jobs Are

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For Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the Detroit Department of Transportation’s main bus garage was a triumphant finale to his effort to secure more new buses from the feds.

For DDOT’s riders, the 80 new buses are a welcome sight on city streets. Yet sadly, they still won’t get us into the suburbs, where the great majority of the jobs are, because DDOT service is still confined to the city of Detroit.

In his speech, Vice-President Biden alluded to the disconnect between Detroiters and jobs. “100,000 Detroiters don’t have automobiles,” he said, “and jobs are places where people who need them the most aren’t. What’s the use of having a job if you can’t get there?” Metro Detroit, he noted, has the worst “job sprawl” in the nation,  with more than 77% of jobs located more than 10 miles from downtown. Continue reading “Biden Buses Good…But Won’t Get Where the Jobs Are”

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Ford’s RTA: The Man, His Plans, and Ours

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Michael Ford talks to reporters at the RTA’s Campus Martius kickoff.

 

It’s here.

More than two years after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan into existence, the RTA finally has a staff and a plan for moving forward. It also has those 21st-century signifiers of existence, like a website, Facebook page, and tote bags, as well as a quick video introduction. (If you’re new to the RTA story, this one is definitely worth watching.)

This is a relief for bus riders who want a better transit system. For a while, it wasn’t clear that the RTA would come together at all. It didn’t even have a leader for nearly two years. John Hertel, the SMART bus chief and longtime regional pol who’d wanted the job for years, was offered the job in mid-2013 – but never took it, citing the need for more money from Lansing. After six months of delay, the RTA went back to the drawing board, and Governor Snyder’s staffers made a concerted effort to recruit Michael Ford, then CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, otherwise known as TheRide.

The question is, now that the RTA is finally rolling with Ford at the helm, what is it rolling towards? Continue reading “Ford’s RTA: The Man, His Plans, and Ours”

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