Detroiters Serenade Lawmakers to Put Unified Transit System Over the Top

This morning, as lawmakers inside the Michigan statehouse heard testimony on the creation of a regional transit system for greater Detroit, supporters held a musical demonstration outside, singing “Ain’t no mountain high enough to keep us from getting a regional transit authority.” The singers, who hailed from the city proper and its suburbs, are hoping the divided metropolitan region can finally enact the transit unity that has long eluded it.

The fragmentation of Detroit’s transit system, which is currently served by the Detroit Department of Transportation within city limits and the suburban SMART bus system outside, is a major culprit of the region’s poor transit service.

This is the twenty-fourth time over the last few decades state leaders have attempted to create a regional transit system for greater Detroit, and it seems like this proposal could go the distance. Yesterday, the Michigan Senate gave its support to plans for an RTA, setting aside some vehicle registration fees toward the goal.

The Michigan House of Representatives this morning heard testimony on legislation that would open the door for an RTA. Supporters told representatives that passage is a top priority of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. A representative of the suburban SMART transit system said that for every public dollar devoted to transit  in southeast Michigan, the region could expect to reap as much as eight dollars in added private investment.

Megan Owens of the group Transit Riders United said the House is not expected to decide the matter until next week. But where past attempts have been thwarted by suburban-urban tensions, Owens is feeling hopeful that this time a regional system will prevail, thanks to the broad coalition that advocates have built.

“We’ve never gotten this close,” she told Streetsblog. “It’s not often you can get the Detroit leadership and the Detroit churches to get together and agree with the suburban leadership and millionaires from the business community.”

State and regional leaders have also been under pressure from the Federal Transit Administration to negotiate a merged system. Federal officials have said the region will not be eligible for $25 million in funds promised for light rail on Woodward Avenue, in the city’s Midtown neighborhood, unless a regional transit system with a dedicated revenue source is created.

The Detroit News reported some fracturing among coalition groups yesterday. There are just a few weeks left to pass the legislation before state legislators go into recess.

(Video via Mlive.com)