Proposal 1: Potholes, Principles, and Public Transit, Too

DDOT's Route 53 navigates Woodward during resurfacing.

DDOT’s Route 53 navigates Woodward during resurfacing.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard about Proposal 1. The May 5 ballot proposal would increase the sales tax to help repair Michigan’s roads – as well as doing a number of other things, like increasing money for schools.

There’s been plenty of sound and fury about the proposal and how we should vote on it. (The Detroit Free Press has an entire website devoted to analyzing the proposal, complete with diagrams of how a pothole forms.) But almost all of the talk has been from a driver’s perspective. Bus riders, of course, also want our roads fixed. Yet we need to know what Proposal 1 will mean for public transit, too.

There’s no question that better roads will reduce wear and tear on buses, for one thing. But Proposal 1 will also put more money directly into Michigan’s public transit systems: an estimated $130 million per year across the state. That’s because it channels the new money through Michigan’s “Act 51 formula,” the state transportation law that sets aside a maximum of about 10% of all transportation money for public transportation. Some of the religiously-minded among us call it the “transit tithe.”

In fact, some opponents of Proposal 1 have been railing against the new money for transit, saying bus riders don’t pay their fair share. As we should all know, however, drivers don’t actually pay their fair share of road costs, either, and bus riders pay to subsidize freeways that we may never use. Continue reading

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Livonia Residents Speak Up for Buses, Rebuffed by Council

Left: Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey argues for the opt-out. Right: Livonia resident and bus rider Bruce Keezer addresses Council.

Livonia residents turned out to City Council yesterday after they heard the Council would be discussing the issue of public transit. Despite their entreaties, however, a majority of Council voted to postpone discussion of rejoining the SMART bus system, which the city quit ten years ago.

Longtime Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey, 86, led the city out of the SMART bus system in 2005, telling residents the tax money for SMART would be better spent on other services. He opened Monday’s meeting with a PowerPoint presentation on “The SMART Opt-Out: How We Got Here, Why it Works.” You can watch the full council meeting at this link, under “City Council Regular – March 16.”

Kirksey said that previously, only 25% of SMART riders in Livonia were Livonia residents, and that quitting SMART saved Livonia $400,000 per year (about $40 per resident). “No businesses have reported any interest in transit,” he said. “There was some humor at the time, which may be in poor taste for some members of the audience, that if you saw anyone on the bus, get the number and the time and you would get five dollars.” He called the city’s 55%-45% vote to withdraw from SMART in November 2005 a “wide margin.”

A succession of Livonia residents then spoke up in favor of rejoining SMART and participating in regional public transit. No members of the public spoke against SMART, though one resident asked for information on the cost.

“I don’t believe it is working for everyone,” Freedom Rider and lifelong Livonia resident Lynda Franklin told Council. “I’m embarrassed by the disconnect. Successful regions have great public transit systems.” Resident Joan Smykowski noted that the lack of transit shut out low-income workers from jobs in Livonia, and also hampered the city’s ability to attract young professionals. “The high-paying jobs are not coming here,” she said. Continue reading

This Suburb Opted In to SMART After 19 Years

potere-lathrup

Lathrup Village City Administrator Martha Potere stands by a brand-new bus stop on Southfield Road.

In the wake of the James Robertson story, there’s been considerable hand-wringing about the Detroit suburbs that “opt out” of the SMART bus system. Oftentimes, the “opt-out” communities are portrayed as bastions of prejudice, one more example of the metro region’s seemingly unbridgeable racial and economic divides. Undeniably, the fragmented transit system is a sad testament to our region’s history of segregation. Yet as the story of Lathrup Village shows, the opt-outs often owe as much to political inertia as continuing opposition to transit, and concerted action by citizens can reverse decades of neglect.

When the SMART bus system had its first millage back in 1995, the small Oakland County city of Lathrup Village chose not to take part. First developed as an exclusive bedroom community in the 1920s, Lathrup Village is located entirely inside the City of Southfield, which did choose to participate in SMART. For 19 years, then, says Lathrup Village assistant city manager Martha Potere, “the [420] bus actually went up Southfield Road and didn’t stop in Lathrup.” But times change – and with a little effort, city policy can change with it. Continue reading