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.
- Public transit in metro Detroit is severely underfunded.
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.
- Metro Detroit lacks real rapid transit.
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.
- 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.
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.