(TRU column published in The Detroit Free Press editorial page May 11, 2017)
Column: What’s next for regional transit
By Megan Owens
Six months ago, southeast Michigan voters narrowly defeated a measure to fund major regional transit improvements. Across the region, 49.5% of voters supported the measure and many more agreed that our region’s transit needs fixed, even if not with that plan. Clearly, the need for a coordinated, well-funded public regional transit system remains.
So what are our region’s leaders doing to fix our region’s transit crisis?
Despite important work of transit agencies that provide more than 100,000 rides a day, our transit has huge gaps and major limitations that cannot wait to be solved.
- Tens of thousands of people struggle to get to jobs simply because they don’t drive.
- Many seniors feel trapped in their homes because there’s no transit near them.
- Employers can’t attract the best employees because either employees can’t get to them or nationally competitive employees won’t move here.
- There’s are few connections between Wayne and Washtenaw counties, and only on limited routes.
- Our region is missing out on the opportunity to attract economic development dollars because we’re largely not investing in the modern transit that attracts development. (Consider the investment that QLINE — debuting to the public today — has attracted along its route.)
Those problems haven’t gone away. The people of southeast Michigan are still waiting for a solution.
The Regional Transit Authority Board is to meet Thursday to consider what’s next. The board members from all four counties and Detroit need to each come forward with concrete recommendations for fixing our transit crisis.
Together with city leaders and county executives, the RTA must map out an action plan for improving the regional transit plan and bring it back before voters at the earliest possible opportunity – in November 2018.
If any particular counties are not willing to move forward with positive solutions for regional transit, perhaps they need to be left behind.
If, for example, Oakland and Macomb leaders refuse to get on board with productive transit solutions, Detroit, Wayne and Washtenaw counties should move forward on their own. While the RTA can only place a full four-county measure on the ballot, nothing says the county commissions of Wayne and Washtenaw counties couldn’t do so themselves.
And they should. The voters in those communities want better transit and have demonstrated that they are willing to invest in it.
A Wayne-Detroit-Washtenaw regional transit measure could enable:
- A transit link between Detroit, Dearborn and Ann Arbor, connecting jobs centers, university innovation centers and top young talent
- Airport express service to downtown, Midtown, Grosse Pointe and Plymouth
- Job connections from both counties to transit deserts in Livonia, Plymouth, Canton, Belleville and elsewhere
- Expansion of seamless services for seniors and people with disabilities throughout both counties.
Moving a full four-county regional transit measure forward on next year’s ballot would certainly be preferable. But if Oakland and Macomb prefer to rehash old arguments without working to improve the region’s transit plan, it would be better for half the region to make progress than none at all.
We cannot accept the status quo of disconnected communities and thousands of workers and seniors without access to opportunity. Southeast Michigan is already decades behind other metro regions that are beating us for talented workers and new-economy business.
Our region’s leaders must act promptly to fix our region’s transit crisis. We cannot afford to wait.
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Megan Owens is executive director of Transportation Riders United, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving transit throughout greater Detroit.