The four-county transit ballot measure before voters in Southeast Michigan this November is truly historic.
It took 40 years and 23 failed attempts for Detroit and its suburbs to establish a regional transit agency. They finally won state support to establish the RTA in 2012. At the time, Detroit was on the verge of bankruptcy, and its general-revenue-supported transit system was in dire condition.
Transit service in the region is fragmented and unreliable, even though a quarter of city residents don’t own cars. The severity of the problem was encapsulated by the story of James Robertson, whose commute to a factory job in the suburbs required taking two buses and walking 21 miles.
The RTA can’t deliver a better transit system without funding, and that’s where the vote in November comes into play.
The Detroit region has put together a $4.6 billion, four-county plan to improve transit. The centerpiece is a network of bus rapid transit lines extending out from downtown. Funded by a 20-year property tax increase, the measure would cost the average homeowner in the region about $95 a year.
Megan Owens, director of the advocacy group Transit Riders United, says the measure is important for a few reasons. Right now, urban and suburban transit services are poorly integrated. That’s what messed up James Robertson’s commute — the suburb he worked in opted out of the suburban transit system. The lack of coherent transit connections makes the region’s notorious job sprawl an even bigger problem.