Let the People Vote on Regional Transit

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Oakland County Executive Patterson and Macomb County Executive Hackel previously said they’d let the people of the region vote on the RTA’s regional transit plan, but they’re now prepared to block it.

If you haven’t signed it, here’s the direct link to the petition to the County Executives.

Last Thursday, we traveled to the Regional Transit Authority’s monthly board meeting in downtown Detroit, expecting to cheer on an RTA vote to put a regional transit proposal on the November ballot.

What we didn’t know was that that morning, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel had opened a last-minute attack on the RTA plan – and, in effect, the very idea of regional transit itself.

In a press release that morning, Patterson and Hackel claimed they lacked assurance that the RTA wouldn’t siphon off tax dollars from their counties to Detroit, and, asserted that the RTA plan, which we previously analyzed here, “fails…on virtually every level.”

In an earlier memo shared with the press release, the Oakland County RTA representatives argued that “the plan is designed to force the ‘outer portions’ of Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne and Macomb Counties…to be compelled to pay for the services mostly beneficial to the Cities of Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. This is a thinly veiled effort to create regional tax based sharing relating to transit.”

In fact, as we discussed here, the RTA plan is highly favorable to Oakland and Macomb, which receive the lion’s share of new local transit services. But without support from the Oakland and Macomb representatives, the RTA board was forced to schedule another meeting for next Thursday as the window for placing the RTA proposal on the 2016 ballot ticks to a close. (August 16 is the final deadline.)

It’s Time to Act

We’ve come too far to let this happen now. We can’t let Patterson and Hackel thwart a vote of the people on a issue of surpassing regional concern. We’ve been waiting for decades, and we need action now.

Please sign our online petition to Patterson and Hackel, urging them to allow a vote of the people on regional transit, and share it with your friends, family members and coworkers, especially those in Oakland and Macomb County.

On Tuesday, July 25, join us in telephoning Patterson and Hackel’s offices (more information here), and ask them to allow a public vote on the regional transit plan. Patterson’s office number is (248) 858-0480; Hackel’s, (586) 469-7001.

And on Thursday, July 28, join us at the RTA board meeting – tentatively scheduled for 1:30 pm at the Detroit Regional Chamber office, at Woodward and Jefferson – to raise our voices together for the transportation freedom we’ve been denied so many years.

The RTA Plan: A Giant Step Forward for Transit in Metro Detroit

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The full draft RTA regional transit plan.

Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan Avenue, and M-59.

When a bill to establish a regional transit authority in metro Detroit came before theĀ  Michigan Legislature four years ago, it named only those four regional corridors as the agency’s focus, prompting concerns by some – including ourselves – that the authority might overlook the pressing transit needs across our whole region.

Thankfully, the draft Regional Master Transit Plan released by the RTA at a series of public meetings this month is so much more than that.

If voters approve a 1.2 mill property tax in November – equivalent to $8/month for the owner of a $200,000 home – the plan will create a transit system better than anything metro Detroit has seen in generations.

The plan puts forward a comprehensive strategy for improving transit across Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw County, including rapid transit lines on major corridors, express buses to Metro Airport and downtown Detroit, and – importantly for the tens of thousands of people in the region who rely on transit as their primary mode of transportation – major improvements to existing DDOT, SMART, and AAATA bus service. (Check out the full map here.)

In so doing, it also largely satisfies the provisions of the Motor City Freedom Riders petition to the Big Four regional leaders: doubling existing funding for transit in the region; creating new regional rapid transit corridors; and reserving nearly (though not quite) half of new funding for bus service through the existing transit agencies, DDOT, SMART and AAATA.

Is the plan a panacea for our transit-starved region? No. In order to placate the Big Four, and ensure the plan has a solid chance at the ballot box in November, the tax ask was limited to 1.2 mills, roughly doubling existing regional funding for transit. That puts us in the funding ballpark of regions like Cleveland and Atlanta, which have some rapid transit and (within their service area) slightly more extensive bus service than metro Detroit. Yet it still leaves us a far cry from places like Pittsburgh, Denver, and Seattle, which provide transit with three or four times more funding per capita.

Another major limitation is the “parochialism clause” inserted in the RTA legislation at the insistence of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, a longstanding transit skeptic. The clause requires 85% of revenues raised by the RTA to stay in the county in which they are raised. In effect, that means the wealthiest counties get the most transit – whereas those that have a lower property tax base (notably Wayne) get the least. You don’t need to be a socialist to see the problems with this provision, given the role of downtown Detroit as a major regional job center, and the fact that Detroit has the greatest number of people who rely on public transit to get around.

Despite these restrictions, however, the RTA plan manages to balance regional interests to provide a strong framework for expanding transit for everyone in metro Detroit. Read on for more of our analysis. Continue reading