State waits for Legislature to do its job on transit

By Timothy R. Fischer/Michigan Environmental Council and Michele Hodges/Troy Chamber of Commerce

Our state’s leaders must stop dithering and approve the regional transit authority bills (Senate Bills 909, 911-912) before the Michigan Legislature. An RTA matters for the entire state.

It would control transit tax expenditures in Southeast Michigan, cut duplicative service, force efficiencies and offer a higher level of transit service. It does not raise taxes one cent.

Old animosities that persist today have hindered progress in unifying our region and state for far too many decades. The current RTA legislation is the 24th attempt.

It has -- so far -- avoided a long history of pitfalls, and it includes necessary compromises in order to get regional leaders on board. It is a huge step in the right direction. Its benefits far exceed its shortcomings.

In short, an RTA would create the framework for a more streamlined and effective transit network. It’s the type of framework that enables places such as Chicago, Denver, Washington, D.C., and almost every other city which beckons our daughters and sons to construct and operate comprehensive transit services.

These services get workers to jobs and shoppers to stores. They foster economic corridors that many Michigan developers are hungry to build. An RTA will force transit providers to coordinate service, cutting out existing duplication. It will force transit agencies to plan, and to plan together, to receive money.  This will lead to a higher level of coordinated transit service.

The legislative proposal includes rapid transit routes. These express routes would connect the residential suburbs to Detroit’s commercial and recreational districts. This rapid transit technology is best described as trains on tires. The advance ticket purchasing, comfortable seating, safe stations, and dedicated travel lanes are similar to train travel at a considerably lower cost.

An RTA will ensure that our tax money headed toward public transit is used much more efficiently than today -- with less waste and duplication. It is common today to see a SMART bus and a DDOT bus driving down Woodward Avenue in Detroit together.

And each might be half full.

That’s not the best way to do business. However, existing law prohibits SMART from picking up passengers along most of Woodward Avenue in the city. The RTA legislation provides a fix.

If the RTA bills don't pass, the transit agencies will still receive money -- they will just not have the incentive to use it more wisely and efficiently. The RTA forces these efficiencies.

Again, these bills do not increase taxes one cent. They put the power to raise money in local hands. Taxpayers in the four counties and Detroit-- not Lansing politicians -- will decide whether they want to raise revenue locally to pay for public transportation upgrades.

Please urge your state legislators to vote yes on SB 909, 911-912.



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Thu, 05/17/2012 - 12:01pm
Thank you for calling out the legislature for dragging their feet on a painfully obvious and necessary solution for Michigan. It's time to put past battles between suburbs and city behind and create a solution that is good for all of Michigan. That is what the state legislature is there for - to look at the good of the entire state. Detroit is the largest metro region in the country without a regional public transit system and that fact is clearly a detriment to attracting new knowledge workers - the ones that we need to rebuild our economy. It's time to let our legislators know that we expect leadership on this issue, not the same old tired bickering about whether the suburbs or city is getting a better deal. We're all losing while the bickering continues. Thanks for posting this piece. Now let's take it to our legislators!
Thu, 05/17/2012 - 5:15pm
What would be the goal of the RTA? Is the priority to design a rapid, mass transit system for people who drive cars or those who do not drive cars? It makes a big difference to really get people out of their cars and vote to help finance the system. Then tweak the system to accommodate those who do not drive cars, to give added conveniences.
Fri, 05/18/2012 - 11:24am
You have to realize that even the most (well?) developed an efficient mass transit systems in America (Chicago & New York) only have revenues to support 50% of their operating cost. The rest has to be paid for by the government. Is mass transit an essential service like fire & police protection? Once you start a major transit system, it is with you forever and consolidating the various TAs into a RTA will give it a life in perpetuity which will nurse on the tax payers forever. The legislature has a right to be very cautious before accepting this kitten cause its not the initial cost, its the up-keep. It all sounds good to promote a mass transit system to allow people to get to work and to shop out of their neighborhoods but in reality what is the cost to the tax payer, merchants and others that will be taxed to support the system. Can we rely on the Fed to continue to throw money we don't have to a mass transportation system when their focus has been on high speed rail. Also remember there is always a match of funds required to get free Fed dollars.
Alan N. Connor
Fri, 05/18/2012 - 4:37pm
Hardvark is right that public mass transit systems are usually non-profit operations. Operation revenue does not pay the costs of operation, maintenance and updating equipment. In most cases, tax subsidies are needed to finance the system. Nevertheless, they are usually an economic asset. They reduce automobile traffic, air pollution, vehicular and pedestrian accidents, street and road maintenance and parking structure construction and maintenance costs to name a few positives. Al Connor