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.
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.
DDOT Union Still Opposed
This message is especially important to spread because Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, the union representing DDOT bus drivers, is still arguing that the RTA is “anti-Detroit.”
We’ve marched with ATU Local 26 in the Detroit Labor Day Parade, and we have great respect for DDOT’s hard-working, underpaid drivers. But Local 26’s leadership is simply wrong on this issue – as they were in opposing the new Reflex bus service on Woodward and Gratiot.
The union’s main grievance is the 2013 move by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to re-allocate state and federal funding that supports DDOT and SMART.
Under an agreement negotiated in the 1970s, 65% of those funds went to DDOT, and 35% to SMART. In 2013, as SMART faced a funding crunch, SEMCOG voted to switch that to a 50-50 split between the two agencies, effectively transferring $8 million from DDOT to SMART annually.
That move was undertaken without adequate discussion, and the union’s anger is certainly understandable. But the change in the funding split wasn’t the RTA’s doing. Instead of under-funding transit, and fighting over the crumbs that the region currently provides to DDOT and SMART, we have to boost transit investment across the board. That’s exactly what the RTA ballot measure would do in nearly doubling total local funding for transit in our region.
Detroit Would Get Major Return on Transit Investment
Local 26’s charges that the RTA is “anti-Detroit” are belied by the facts. In reality, the RTA has done everything in its power to ensure Detroit gets major benefits under the RTA’s transit proposal, as the new funding for DDOT indicates. Detroit would get far and away the greatest return on investment of any of the jurisdictions in the RTA.
Take a look at the Detroit entry (the middle bars) in the chart above. The blue columns show the amount of property tax revenue that each jurisdiction would generate under the RTA millage proposal. The multi-colored column on the right indicates the total value of new transit services that each jurisdiction would receive under the plan.
As the chart indicates, the very low property tax values in Detroit mean that the city would be putting relatively little tax money into the RTA, especially compared to wealthy Oakland County. However, the city would get an enormous return in terms of transit service. Remember, under the RTA’s authorizing legislation, the RTA is required to spend 85% of the tax revenue it collects within the jurisdiction where it’s collected. In effect, the RTA did everything it could, within its authority, to make sure Detroit got the transit investment it so desperately needs.
Most of this investment would come in the form of the three bus rapid transit lines serving the heavily traveled transit corridors of Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan. But DDOT riders would also benefit through improved service on other routes, including Greenfield, Grand River, Plymouth, Jefferson, Fort, 8 Mile, and Van Dyke.
We’ve said many times that the RTA proposal is not a cure-all for Detroit’s transit woes. In the future, we hope to see enhanced DDOT service on additional routes, too, including more of the crosstown routes that many riders use to access corridors like Woodward and Gratiot. Again, though, we’re hopeful that some of this could be set in motion under the RTA plan, if DDOT and SMART are able to shift some of their service off the BRT corridors to better serve other routes.
The numbers, however, are clear enough: the RTA proposal would be a big boon for DDOT, providing the cash-strapped provider with its biggest injection of new funding in years. For better bus service within the City of Detroit, as well as around the larger region, we need to vote “YES” on regional transit on November 8.