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

Big4

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

Lack of Funding Will Limit Proposed Express Service

reflex-profile

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

Here’s the Lowdown on Proposed DDOT Service Changes

DDOT-Hamilton

Note: DDOT is hosting a final public hearing on these service changes on Tuesday, January 19, 5-6 pm in the Rosa Parks Transit Center (upper level). Hope to see you there!

Last month, the Detroit Department of Transportation announced a series of changes in scheduled bus service, the first major overhaul of scheduled service in years.

As everyone knows, DDOT buses don’t always run according to schedule. But performance has improved a great deal since the Motor City Freedom Riders first met with new DDOT director Dan Dirks in early 2014, and the service changes can help tell us where the system’s headed. Read on for our analysis. Continue reading

Victory: DDOT Is On the Dashboard!

ddotdashboardIn February of this year, the Freedom Riders launched a petition to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, asking him to add DDOT bus performance information to his “Detroit Dashboard,” his weekly online progress report on city services. The Mayor had, after all, said that improving bus service was his most important priority, yet the Dashboard contained no information on that front.

Over the coming months, we collected more than 500 signatures on the petition.  And, at long last, the Mayor’s Dashboard features DDOT performance information, including both morning and afternoon “pullout,” the number of buses that get out of the garage and onto the road each day.

It’s a small, symbolic step. But it sends a strong message that decent bus service – used mostly by the city’s poorest citizens – is every bit as important as police services, fire protection, and other essential city functions. It also shows the power of what we can do together. Continue reading

Elections Next Week Will Shape Transit Prospects

2015elections copy

Post-election update: Transit won in Scio Township, with fully 67% of voters in support. In Rochester Hills, pro-transit challenger Yalamanchi fell short with 39% of the vote to incumbent mayor Barnett’s 53%.

2015 is an off year for elections in Michigan, and many of us are looking ahead to November 2016 – not just for the presidential election, but for the anticipated Regional Transit Authority ballot proposal that could give a historic boost to transit in metro Detroit.

Yet a number of communities in the metro area do have local elections a week from today, and some of them could be very consequential for public transit. Here we spotlight two elections, in Scio Township and Rochester Hills, of particular interest to bus riders and our allies. Continue reading

SMART Board Debates Restoring Service to Detroit

SMART-downtown

For over a year, since the SMART tax millage increase passed last August, the Freedom Riders have urged the transit agency to consider restoring seamless all-day service between Detroit and the suburbs – to little avail. SMART General Manager John Hertel said that wasn’t worth discussing, and dismissed our petitions as “posturing.”

Today, in a special meeting, the SMART board debated a proposal very similar to the one we put forward: restoring all-day and weekend service across Eight Mile on its two most-traveled routes, Woodward (450/60) and Gratiot (560).

The about-face was prompted by the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which now controls the division of federal funding between DDOT and SMART. That allocation has been a subject of fierce debate. The power to control that funding split is one of the RTA’s , and it appears RTA staff are now using the power of the purse to push SMART to restore regional service – sparking a spirited debate among the SMART board members. Continue reading

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

https://i0.wp.com/www.crainsdetroit.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/storyimage/CD/20150917/NEWS/150919835/AR/0/AR-150919835.jpg&MaxW=1400&MaxH=1400

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

Solidarity with Bus Drivers Across Michigan

This Labor Day, as in the past, the Freedom Riders were proud to march with the DDOT and SMART bus drivers of Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 26 and 1564. As we walked down Michigan Avenue – over the tracks once used by ATU Local 26 streetcar drivers – we couldn’t help but think about the need for more displays of rider-driver solidarity.

Too often, riders and drivers are pitted against each other. Across the country, bus drivers have been assaulted by angry passengers pushed to the limit by service cuts and fare increases. If you’ve been on one of the new DDOT buses, you’ll have seen the plastic shields around the driver’s seat, a newfangled design intended to insulate against attacks.

This is a tragedy for all of us. We’ve got to go in the opposite direction, the way shown us by “Boo-yah,” the legendary DDOT driver who greets riders with a friendly fist-bump. We need to build a closer bond between riders and drivers – because both riders and drivers are under much bigger kinds of attack. Continue reading

Dirks: DDOT Will Be At 100% Pullout by September

dirks-5-29

On May 29, the Freedom Riders met with Detroit Department of Transportation Director Dan Dirks at DDOT headquarters on East Warren. These meetings have become a familiar, almost casual fixture of our work. Despite DDOT’s continued struggle to get buses on the road, Dirks was perhaps more optimistic than we’ve ever seen him. He told us Detroit would be getting all its scheduled buses running by this fall, for the first time in years, once his new drivers-in-training have graduated.

“This thing didn’t break overnight,” Dirks said, “so fixing it will take a little time. We now have more buses than we have drivers.” However, by July, he expects 60 more drivers to have finished training. “By September,” he says, “we should make it.” Continue reading

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

ford-rta

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