Transit as a Key Piece to the Population Puzzle

For more info on the Growing Michigan Together Council, view their website:

Governor Whitmer appointed the Growing Michigan Together Council to “advise the governor on specific policies to grow Michigan’s population” and “set Michigan up for success in the 21st Century.” The Infrastructure and Places Workgroup is tasked “to propose long-term, sustainable, and equitable funding solutions for Michigan’s multi-modal transportation systems.”

A critical part of Michigan’s population solution must be robust investment in public transportation. 

It can be hard for people who enjoy driving to fully understand the monumental impact of Michigan’s poor transit on those who cannot and the importance of providing transportation options. This memo strives to overcome that and to:

  • Explain why transit is essential 
  • Provide a breadth of studies, surveys, articles, and editorials in support  
  • Offer concrete action steps the Council should recommend.  

While Michigan has many wonderful attributes and amenities, we have consistently failed to address the needs of people who want mobility options beyond driving. The way Michigan has funded transportation for decades makes it unreliable or impossible for most people to walk, bike, or use public transportation to get to school, work, shopping, and other destinations. 

Many people cannot afford the costs of maintaining and insuring a car, which costs the average household fully 24% of their entire household income. For young people with student loans, expensive housing, and low-paid jobs, living in a place where a car feels like a necessity is just unaffordable.

While many people love their cars, Michigan needs to be a state that welcomes and works for everyone, not just well-off physically-abled people. 

Many of Michigan’s young people are leaving for urban areas elsewhere – whether that’s Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, DC, Minneapolis, or Boston – and one common factor is the ability to live in a vibrant community where cars are an option, not a necessity. Big investment in public transit would enable the vibrant walkable communities that many people prefer to live in – especially the educated younger professionals vital to Michigan’s economic development. 

But don’t take our word for it. Appendix 1 provides more than twenty studies, surveys, reports, and editorials of local and national experts, community leaders, and residents explaining why investing in public transit is essential for building and maintaining Michigan’s population, especially young people, including:

“More than 75% of millennials said it is important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car. 66% said that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria when deciding where to live.”

Rockefeller Foundation study

“Crain’s Detroit found 73% of millennials put regional transit at the top of their wish list. If we want to grow our economy and keep our young people here, regional transit is a must.”

Dennis Cowan, CEO of Plunkett Cooney

“When asked what will get young professions to stay in the Detroit area, “The biggest trends here in Detroit were mass transit, greenways and regional government.”

Great Lakes Urban Exchange

“Coming out of the Coronavirus pandemic demand for living in a walkable community remains robust. Millennials want their community leaders to provide convenient alternatives to driving, such as walking, biking, and public transportation. Gen Z wants to live near transit more than any other generation.”

National Association of Realtors 

In order to compete, Michigan must also offer a complete transit system that works seamlessly to move people. Shifting our investment from a purely auto-based approach is essential as we strive to keep and attract talent through the development of our places.”

Michigan Municipal League

And while transportation technologies are changing, the need for vibrant walkable communities connected by convenient affordable transportation options will not change. Future buses, shuttles, and trains may be electrically operated autonomously, but will still remain important.

For those reasons and more, a centerpiece of Michigan’s plan to boost our population must make serious investments in public transportation. It’s an investment that will pay enormous dividends, in not only boosting our population, but also providing more equity and accessibility for everyone. 

Recommendations: Expand and Invest in Transit!

Specifically to develop the high quality transit essential to boosting Michigan’s population:

  1. Direct and fund the MDOT Office of Passenger Transportation to explicitly work to support transit expansion in communities throughout Michigan. Right now, there is no one in state government dedicated to expanding access to transit.
  1. Michigan must invest $1 billion a year in transit, rail, pedestrian/bike safety, and walkability. That’s roughly double what’s spent now, but still just 15% of MDOT’s total budget and would put Michigan more in line with states like Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Additional detailed recommendations are provided in Appendix 2 below, including modernizing MDOT’s investment prioritization, supporting safe walkable streets, and eliminating barriers to local transit investments. 

Effective investment in public transportation can not only address Michigan’s population challenges, but can play a critical role in addressing Michigan’s challenges in affordability, inequity, the climate crisis, education gaps, and more. It can be a true win-win-win, if Michigan makes the necessary investments, politically and financially. 

This is provided on behalf of Transportation Riders United, Michigan’s top transit advocacy organization, based on two decades experience in transit-related research, engagement, mobilization, coalitions, and advocacy around a wide range of transportation discussions. I hope this can be a useful resource and offer our ongoing support in your important efforts.

To read the rest of our memo on the critical need for transit investment to aid population growth in Michigan, download the memo.