Opinion | Public transportation is moving forward. Detroit, are you listening?
2022 is a year where voters in southeast Michigan showed that they support public transportation. In the August primary, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township voted to support a millage to expand public transportation service from The Ride. Other counties in southeastern Michigan followed suit in the November general election. Oakland County voters passed a millage that expands public transportation services throughout the county. Residents of Macomb County renewed their SMART millage.
What is significant is that voters in Oakland County joined Macomb County in passing a millage that is applied to the entire county. By doing so, the problem of opt-out communities has been eliminated in Oakland County. This is a significant policy step forward for our region. Public transportation services in Oakland County will be able to be more effective and efficient.
While these victories are worth celebrating, there is still much work to be done to improve the level of public transportation services throughout southeast Michigan. While those communities that have decided to help fund smart services throughout Wayne County approved the continuation of the millage, Wayne County still allows for too many municipalities to opt out of funding public transportation. If voters in Macomb and Oakland County can support a countrywide public transit millage that eliminates opt out options, then surely Wayne County should present this option to Wayne County voters.
The critical piece to creating a strong public transportation system in southeast Michigan, is dramatic improvements of bus service in Detroit. The unfortunate reality is that while the rest of our region has taken solid steps forward this year to improve public transportation, Detroit has taken steps back. Service levels have not been returned to 2019 levels. Almost weekly at Detroit City Council meetings individuals come forward to complain about city buses showing up late. And to add insult to injury, disabled riders and seniors in Detroit will find themselves with very few options for paratransit services at the beginning of 2023.
Leaders in Detroit must act aggressively in 2023 to improve public transportation. They can start by making sure that disabled riders and seniors have the appropriate level of paratransit services. In addition, the city needs to attract and retain drivers by making sure that their pay and benefits are in line with other transit agencies in our region, such as SMART and The Ride. The Detroit City Council should adopt legislation that requires DDOT to update its performance dashboard and provide regular updates to the City Council and the public on its internal operations.
While I and many other transit advocates in our region are pleased with what we see as progress for public transportation, we know all too well that there is much work to be done. We must continue to push local and state leaders to do their part to improve public transportation in southeast Michigan. This has to be done because every person has a right to get where they need to go and the right to choose how they get there.
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