Why Rally for Real Regional Transit? A Guide for the Perplexed

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The media can sometimes alter perceptions of transit reality.

Over the past few days, we’ve received a number of questions from well-meaning people asking why we’re holding demonstrations today to coincide with the QLINE streetcar opening. Here’s an effort to answer some of those questions. Thanks to Moses Maimonides for helping to suggest the title.

Why are you out here demonstrating? This is an exciting day for transit, isn’t it?

We’re demonstrating because we’re tired of waiting for real regional transit. For too long, the political and corporate leadership of metro Detroit has been kicking the can down the road, and that has to change. We’re calling on Mayor Duggan and other regional leaders, including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and Washtenaw County leaders, to support putting a revised regional transit ballot measure before the public in November 2018, so we can start building the truly regional transit system we need.

But isn’t the QLINE a step in the right direction?

Some people who’ve never taken the bus before will take the QLINE, and that could be a good thing, especially if those people start advocating for expanded public transit across the region.

The fact is, though, that the QLINE doesn’t really improve on existing transit service. At least three different DDOT and SMART bus routes already provide service along the same corridor, at the same level of frequency, at an equal or greater rate of speed…or did, until they were shunted off the lower part of Woodward to accommodate QLINE construction. Unlike the QLINE, those bus lines also provide service north of Grand Boulevard.

The QLINE stations are pretty nice, though, and our bus stops should look more like them. Most bus stops in the region don’t even have a shelter, let alone a heated one, and many in the suburbs don’t even have a sidewalk. Continue reading

It’s Time to Rally for Real Regional Transit

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

UPDATE: Note that the Detroit rally will now be happening at Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit.

The champagne will be flowing on Friday, May 12, when the 3-mile, $140 million QLINE streetcar opens to a planned celebration by “local officials and dignitaries.”

But what about real regional transit that serves the needs of riders and doesn’t just duplicate existing service? Or that helps to patch the gaps left by the massive cuts to our bus systems over the past decade?

No one in the Detroit region’s political elite seems to know – or care. After the narrow 51%-49% defeat of the Regional Transit Authority ballot proposal in the Trumpocalytic election of November 2016, transit allies are staying quiet, while the enemies of transit are, to paraphrase Yeats, “full of passionate intensity.”

Witness, for example, Oakland and Macomb County’s efficient ousting of RTA CEO Michael Ford, who was unceremoniously relieved of his position last month. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel blamed Ford for the defeat of the RTA proposal, conveniently omitting mention that Hackel, under the malign influence of Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, had refused to support or campaign for the measure himself.

We can’t let this political inertia continue. Not when every day, thousands of people, and our entire region, are held back by the lack of effective transportation. It’s time to rally for real regional transit and hold our politicians accountable.

We’re hosting rallies at three locations on Friday, May 12, to coincide with the opening of the QLINE streetcar. The biggest will be in Detroit, 8-10 am, at Grand Circus Park downtown. (Join and share the Facebook event at this link.) We can’t let the region’s political elite celebrate their streetcar without reminding them (and the media) of the continuing transit crisis in our region, a crisis they have a moral responsibility to address by putting a transit plan back on the ballot in 2018.

We’re also holding sister rallies in downtown Ann Arbor that morning (link) and in downtown Ferndale that evening (link) to demonstrate that there’s demand in the suburbs as well as the city, and that we demand action not only from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Wayne County Executive Mark Hackel, but from the suburban leadership: Patterson, Hackel, and Washtenaw County leaders.

These rallies will kick off a call-in and petition campaign targeting these regional leaders. Transit is a huge public need – and if they refuse to lead on the issue, the people will. Spread the word. We’ll see you on the buses and in the streets.

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

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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

Dirks: DDOT Will Be At 100% Pullout by September

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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