Regional Transit Update: A Success, Some Progress, but More Delays

The battle for regional transit in southeast Michigan has been quite a roller coaster this spring, and this week more than most! Here’s a recap:

1) Success at the Oakland County Commission: 

A bi-partisan majority of the Oakland County Commission signed on in support of letting the people decide on region-wide transit this November 2018! Four Republican Commissioners joined all seven Democratic Commissioners in stating that they

“believe that improving the transit system is important” and urging “all regional leaders to continue to work toward the development of an equitable plan that improves transit in Oakland County and the region, with the goal of letting voters decide in November 2018.”

While not an endorsement of any specific plan, they support

“continued dialogue and ultimately, voter engagement on this important topic.”

A huge thank you to the 100+ people who attended and dozens who eloquently testified and/or call Commissioners in support! Please send your thanks to the four Republican Commissioners who supported this important resolution, Tom J. Berman, Bill Dwyer, Wade Flemming, and Chairman Mike Gingell, as well as to all the Democratic Commissioners! The resolution will be formally voted on July 19.

2) Positive feedback on the proposed Connect Southeast Michigan Plan

The RTA reported on their public input (pdf). In the last 50 days, they

  • Presented the plan to over 35 different sessions, 
  • Appeared in the media 31 times
  • Hosted six public meetings attended by 293 people
  • Engaged on social media 58,378 times, generating 1,151 responses

We at TRU also helped boost this outreach effort, hosting two telephone town hall meetings with RTA which:

  • Called 75,000 Oakland and Macomb residents sharing info about regional transit
  • Engaged 7,000 on a telephone town hall about regional transit
  • Answered questions and got feedback from more than 200 people

Through all this engagement, RTA learned that the region has a strong interest in having more mobility options and understand that the way we move will change in the near future. There is strong support for high-frequency transit and Airport Express, but concern about the level of the millage rate and competing infrastructure needs.

Based on this, they updated their proposed transit plan (right) to include premium service along Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor – Ypsilanti and added or extended services in Rochester, Canton, Northville, and West Bloomfield.

3) Yet Oakland and Macomb still likely to block an RTA vote this year

While RTA Board members representating Detroit, Wayne, and Washtenaw Counties support the Connect Southeast Michigan plan and want to place it on the ballot, Oakland and Macomb board members remain unconvinced. Macomb leaders continue to believe road investment is a higher priority than expanded transit and are concered about this impact RTA would have on a renewal of SMART. Oakland leaders support transit in the current SMART opt-in communities but oppose any efforts to expand beyond the current boundaries without individual municipalities opting in.

RTA postponed a vote this week and will continue to discuss concerns and options. A vote in likely on the new plan July 12 and 19.

4) So we’re working on Plan B! 

While the best solution to our regional transit problems would be four-county-wide transit funding and service, we can’t keep letting a few northern leaders prevent transit progress. We believe half of something is better than all of nothing! So we’re working on Plan B.

Given that most elected leaders and voters in Wayne and Washtenaw Counties recognize the value of improved and expanded transit, we are working with those officials to have a two-county Plan B prepared. While the details are still under consideration, we believe such a plan could:

  • Connect Detroit and Dearborn with Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, first with express buses, then with a commuter train;
  • Provide job connections with western Wayne County from both Detroit and Ann Arbor;
  • Improve high-frequency transit along the busy Michigan Ave, Grand River,  and Washtenaw corridors and elsewhere;
  • Provide convenient affordable airport access from not only Ann Arbor but also Ypsilanti, Plymouth, and Grosse Pointe; and
  • Invest in new mobility pilots and study how to develop light rail to the airport, a streetcar extension, and more.

Join TRU and our friends at Motor City Freedom Riders on Wednesday June 20 at Cass Community Commons to discuss the specifics of this plan and what needs to happen to make it reality.


Clearly, this roller coaster is far from done. Hold on tight and stay tuned to what’s next!