SE Michigan voters could see new mass transit plan on ballot in November

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans on Thursday laid out his plan to improve mass transit after years of delays.

June 2018 update: Detroit regional mass transit plan dead for 2018

After months of negotiations, a new $5 billion mass transit plan was proposed Thursday for southeast Michigan that seeks to address the concerns that killed the regional transportation initiative two years ago.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans had planned to lay out the proposal –  which could go to voters this fall – at a meeting Thursday afternoon of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.

The proposal would make several major changes to the plan that voters rejected in 2016. The new plan:

  • Provides a commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor
  • Provides $50 million per year for a program called Hometown Service to 60 communities that do not have regularly scheduled bus routes. The money can be spent locally on “creative mobility solutions” such as ridesharing or campus connectors - or rolled over for the county to spend
  • Adds 11 new highway-based express bus routes with park and ride lots; and adds one airport-bound route from each county
  • Adds 15 regional bus routes that run every 15 minutes during rush hour, including 10 routes that run cross-county 20-hours per day and three that offer 24 hours service
  • Provides 105 percent return on each county’s investment, compared to 85 percent in the prior plan.

It doesn’t come without a cost, though. The plan would charge homeowners 1.5 mills per year. That’s more than the 1.2 mill per year plan for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb that voters narrowly defeated in 2016.

The plan would cost owners of $200,000 homes another $150 a year.

“This plan is designed to serve riders where they are and where they need to go on a daily basis,” Evans said. “It will expand economic opportunities for countless local residents who struggle to get to work, school, or even the doctor’s office. It will also take cars off the road, which will ease congestion, reduce emissions and increase productivity. It brings value to all four counties and is flexible enough to grow with mobility technology so we can adapt it moving forward.”

Unlike the other, failed plan, the new proposal would eliminate plans for four bus rapid transit routes, which would have required widening streets for bus lanes. The new plan also allows the counties to be eligible for more guaranteed federal and state grant funding as opposed to discretionary grant funds that are not guaranteed.

“A voter-approved tax of 1.5 mill in 2018 will raise $5.4 billion over 20 years and leverage an additional $1.3 billion in farebox, state and federal revenues,” the plan states.

For months, the leaders from Detroit, Wayne, Washtenaw, Macomb and Oakland have met to discuss changes to the RTA plan and had promised to make a public announcement by April.  

Related: As mass transit talks slow, will Wayne, Washtenaw counties go it alone?

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel had expressed the most reluctance to support a new transit ballot measure.

Some Oakland residents wanted to be able to opt out of the plan due to concerns that they would be paying for transit they wouldn’t use while Macomb officials worried they needed to prioritize road improvement millages over transit.

This new plan could be the last best effort to try to get a four-county transit measure on the ballot in Southeast Michigan in November. RTA board chairman Paul Hillegonds told Bridge that time is running out to approve a ballot measure and leave enough time for a campaign to explain it to the public.

To get this proposal on the ballot, the RTA would have to hold a public hearing and the board would have to vote to approve it.

The wording for a November ballot question must be submitted by August.

Megan Owens, executive director for Transportation Riders United advocacy group, said the new plan is more equitable because it provides more communities with funding while still creating more regional transportation options.

“I do think that this plan addresses most of the complaints and concerns of the last plan,” Owens said.

“It makes it really clear that rural communities will get direct dollars to invest in their transit needs.”

Westland Mayor Bill Wild, who is also a Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District vacated by Rep. John Conyers Jr., applauded the plan.

"Regional transit is not just about buses, it is about moving this region forward and putting people back to work," Wild said in a statement. "Sometimes leadership means you put your best plan together and just get out of the way to let the voters decide."

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 03/15/2018 - 3:40pm

For bus routes....billions. NO. Fix the GD roads, educate kids, and STOP with the freeway expansion..LESS people are driving and will be driving in the next 20 years NOT MORE...and nobody wants to ride the damn bus...Uber? Lyft? Self driving vehicles...NOT busses. Dumb.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 03/15/2018 - 3:49pm

"“I do think that this plan addresses most of the complaints and concerns of the last plan,” Owens said. "

Someone once said something to the effect of "To compel someone to pay for something that they do not believe in, is sinful & tyrannical".

All this "new" proposal does is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Mass transit users still don't want to pay the full cost and most S.E. Michigan residents don't see why they should be made to pay for someone elses transportation.

It's 2016 all over again.

Dave G
Tue, 03/20/2018 - 1:38pm

Car drivers want better roads but don't want to pay the full cost of roads either. If the government raises the taxes (Snyder is talking about the gas tax again) to fix all Michigan roads, you'll be paying for someone else's transportation as well. In fact, you already do. Your taxes (approx $1,000 annually) already go towards roads from the UP to the west coast that you'll never drive on.

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 4:20pm

I hope they do a better job of promoting it this time around. We heard a speaker last time that had great reasons for supporting the public trans measure: you could get to the airport without having to have someone drop you off! You could go to the ball game without paying $25 for parking! Benefits that would appeal to many in Macomb and northern Oakland counties. But when they started running ads, they were all about how my elderly mother can now do her shopping, or my blind neighbor can be more independent. That kind of reasoning is NOT going to appeal to the voters I described -- nothing in it for them, they figure, they'll just vote against it and save $150 year in taxes.

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 7:15pm

The real question is are there other contributors like myself who write comments that are denied by Bridge and never see the light of day?

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 7:40pm

I have lived in and visited cities with mass transit, mostly subways or trains. You can get from any of the 3 airports near DC via train, or bus + train. Residents and visitors both use them.

College graduates from our state are leaving and moving to other cities with mass transit, which is just about every other one. They don't need cars, and can save up to get one when they have a family. We cannot compete with the other metropolitan areas that have mass transit, and the exodus of educated graduates will continue.

Maybe I'm the only one, but I vote to raise my taxes every time there is a millage. My kids are out of school, but I still want the kids around me to have a good education, so I don't mind paying a few more dollars. My house isn't going to sell for $200,000, the amount mentioned in the article. But even if it did, I'd still vote for another $150 (less than $3 a week) on my tax bill. I'm not wealthy, I'm middle class, but realize that for all of us to do well, we all have to pitch in for roads, schools, and yes mass transit.

We are a very large metropolitan area, and are a long stone's throw from another country. We need this to be competitive with other cities. Our home prices are affordable in relation to major metro areas. We need to keep the young people that are moving here, and if they don't want to stay downtown after they have families, mass transit will help keep them around.

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 8:38pm

Well that $150 per year is near $300 per year for my house which is about 1/2 the cost of other houses in the western Wayne suburbs. And I'm not even in Michigan for over 6 months of the year. I average about 5,000 miles per year on my car, and for my own safety stay as far away from Detroit as possible. They need to get off the property tax kick to get their money. Want mass transit, make it a non-ad volarem assessment. That way everyone has the same skin in the game.

Ben W Washburn
Thu, 03/15/2018 - 9:34pm

Firstly, I'm not sure that the writer of this item meant to imply that the owner of a $200,000 house would somehow pay $150 more than the owners of homes which are more or less valuable than $200,000. BUT the text could be read that way. All that Warren Evans tried to say was to break the cost down to what the average homeowner in the 4-county area would be chipping-in.
Let me break this meagerly sum down to something more meaningful. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the burbs pay no more than minimum wage. People who work those jobs can not afford to use Lift or Uber to get to those jobs. Lift and Uber providers can not afford to bring those workers to their workplace for what those workers could actually afford, not even if the minimum wage is raised to $15. For the owner of a typical $200,000 home, subsidizing the ability of these workers to get to those jobs reliably and on-time, is personally worth far more than this $150 cost to you within the context of your local suburban economy . You are not doing some worthless shiftless person any real favor. You are simply enabling a lot of desperate folks to continue to survive on the very fringes of our society, and to primarily serve at your own personal financial advantage. By indirect economics, you are getting back far, far more than your modest $150 outlay. Your $150 "investment" is simply a pittance in terms of micro-economics.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 03/16/2018 - 8:27am

I live in Flint, so I don't have a dog in this particular fight. This is a very modest proposal, and it is disheartening that even it may be politically unrealistic.
Those of you who are familiar with Michigan's transportation history will remember that, once upon a time, there were interurban trains that ran between our larger cities. This meant that folks could travel from Flint to Ann arbor, Detroit, or Saginaw without having to own a car. (Such an interuban still exists some places, such as the South Shore Line between South Bend and Chicago.)
The car companies did a very effective job in destroying such regional railroads, but they did the rest of us no favor. It is one of the ways in which we alarmingly have fallen behind the rest of the world. In Germany, for example, you can travel anywhere in an integrated system of frequently scheduled national and regional railways, trams, and buses.
If we continue to avoid opportunities such as this to build our common wealth, we will continue to fall further and further behind the rest of the world.

Fri, 03/16/2018 - 11:04am

All you bus proponents are welcome to come out to GR and try out our system. Other than a few people at rush hour you'll likely be the only ones on it! Or check out "The Rapid" where we send a 16+ Mini Bus truck our seniors around town. No problem there either there's usually only one in the whole bus. Sure, If it weren't for this they'd have to take Uber for a fraction of the operating cost! It doesn't matter how you cook up your rider counts and how much red ink you puke when you have people wanting to show how much they care by voting for every millage you can cook up!

Joe Citizen
Fri, 03/16/2018 - 12:00pm

I find it quite frustrating that I can't find a map or copy of the plan.
I live in western wayne county where there is no bus service at all, but now Warren Evans thinks I'm going to pay $200.00 addl. dollars annually for a service I can't even get any info about, he batty as hell! VOTE NO MICHIGAN RTA

Peter Pleitner
Sun, 03/18/2018 - 7:37pm

Shocking - Your photo depicts a German train station. Live there a while. When you return you’ll know you’re returning to a very underdeveloped country. They do infrastructure, maintenance, and contracting way better than we do here. Of course they spend way less on a smaller military and get more private healthcare for a lot less money. So they can afford good roads, trains and buses. I can’t figure out why we don’t care they can do it and we can’t.

Peter Pleitner
Mon, 03/19/2018 - 5:10pm

Forgot to add, about how to pay for mass transit as good as Germany, China, England, etc. Easy and necessary, a carbon tax !

Chris M
Thu, 06/07/2018 - 6:44pm

Fix our roads. Are you crazy trying to spend billions on this while our roads are falling apart. Corruption is ruinning our Country. How many will receive kickbacks for this. All you Mayors and City Councils. Investigate