Detroit's Sprawl King: Transit Expansion Plan Would Be a "Job Killer"

We’ve been following Detroit’s efforts to remake itself as a less car-dependent, more sustainable city, with great interest.

Detroit City Council President Gary Brown (right) has proposed a regional sales tax to preserve and expand transit. Meanwhile, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson (left) says the tax would kill jobs. Image: ## Transport Michigan##

There seems to be a growing understanding in the Motor City that bikeability, walkability and improved transit service are imperative to remake the economy and reverse the city’s infamous urban decay. So much so that private investors have put forward much of the funding for the city’s new light rail line.

But one person who doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo is Brooks Patterson, executive of Oakland County, which is north of Detroit. The region’s self described sprawl king is once again impeding progress.

The situation this time? Budget shortfalls are forcing severe cuts at the city’s already beleaguered transit system. A proposal was recently floated to impose a 1.25 percent regional sales tax to make up for the shortfall, reports Joel Batterman at Network blog Transport Michigan.

But Patterson, in his infinite wisdom, has dismissed the idea, saying the tax would be a “job killer.”

Batterman responds:

Three decades after dissension between Oakland County and Detroit stymied a regional transit system, the same dynamic continues to stall progress today.

The notion of a regional transit tax as a job killer is absurd. Sales taxes are among the most common methods for funding transit in the United States, used by major metro areas from Chicago to Denver to Seattle. Last we heard, all three of these regions had better employment statistics than Detroit, and it was a good deal easier for workers there to actually reach their jobs, something that remains a thus-far-impossible dream for thousands in metro Detroit.

If Patterson and Team Sprawl want to know who the real job-killers are – the transit obstructionists who thought they could sit high and mighty while Detroit crumbled under their weight – perhaps they should consider a look in the mirror.

We’ve written before about why it’s so important that Detroit have a regional transit system. The region has one of the highest rates of job sprawl in the nation, and one of the highest central-city unemployment rates as well. Cuts to the transit system will make make it even harder for the region’s underutilized labor to seek employment. Talk about a job killer.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Plan Philly reports on a new analysis that found Philly’s central city residents save an average of $600 per month in travel costs over their exurban counterparts. Boston Biker weighs in on the city’s crackdown on motorized bicycle use. And Bike Portland presents the results of a Los Angeles study that found the practicality of cycling was strongly tied to the local transit system’s accommodation of cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    L Brooks Patterson’s still alive?  

    It’d take more than just a 1.25% sale tax to boost Detroit’s crappy mass transit system.  We’re talking millions upon millions of Capital Expenditures.

    What’s the 1.25% for?  To save the woefully inadequate SMART bus?  It’s just so spaced out so that you don’t get the critical mass of riders.  Buses already run infrequently.  So many commutes are inter-suburban.  It’s f-cked.

  • It’s easier to light a fire if the embers are still glowing.

  • Anonymous

    What’s this? Old guard politicos that brought Detroit down into the gutter continue their mad descent into Hell? What a shock!

    That old definition of insanity sure seems to apply here….

  • Todd Scott

    Just to be clear, Oakland County does not encompass Detroit. Detroit is in Wayne County. It would be better saying Oakland County is one of the counties within Metro Detroit.

  • Jeff

     Any new taxation is a “job killer” according to these types of politicians, whether it be the MTA payroll tax, or letting the millionaire individual income tax breaks expire.  That’s right:  A 1.25% sales tax is more of a disincentive to economic productivity than a built environment that is completely unattractive to young, talented, innovative people.  The road to recovery is and must continue to be paved with potholes, apparently.

  • Thanks, Todd. Dumb mistake. Corrected.

  • Carole A. Kronberg

    A related issue: Bus routes and clientele are at present divided between DDOT and SMART along racial as well as territorial lines.  The proposed rapid transit route is to stop short at the 8 Mile Rd. border of Detroit, which is also the borderline between Wayne and Oakland Counties.  The question of why it will not go all the way from downtown to the northern suburbs isn’t being answered. 

    At present, Detroit residents can take East-West DDOT routes to get to the North-South Telegraph “SMART” busline, which will transport us S. as far as Taylor and N. to Pontiac (or with a SMART transfer, to West Bloomfield or Farmington Hills);  and some East side buses go North all the way into Macomb County.  However, most East-West bus Routes (DDOT) also stop at the western Detroit border, (Telegraph Rd.) which for a long time has discouraged Detroit residents (approx 90% Black and/or living below the poverty line) from going outside of Detroit to work or shop or whatever.  We Detroiters are quite conscious of how much inadequate transportation limits our opportunities.

    Many, perhaps most, of L Brooks Patterson’s suburban constituents are Whiter, more affluent and downright uncomfortable with the prospect of Detroiters having easier access to their neighborhoods.  Although they would benefit from an expanded market for their goods and services, they are predictably unwilling to risk letting “strangers” into their shops and restaurants and even MORE unwilling to share their job opportunities. 

    Emphasizing the prospect of “job loss” (apparently meaning not overall job loss, but possible losses experienced by his competing constituents’ when alternative laborers are able to commute) without openly acknowledging the area’s ugly, longstanding underlying racism (or his role in maintaining/perpetuating it) obviously is the more “discrete and politically correct” way for Patterson to oppose/impede Detroit’s progress thru equal opportunities..   

  • Jeff Smith

    So to help Detroit you have to tax the wealthy suburban people in Oakland county that may not have anything to do with Detroit, because they live and work in Oakland county. Thank god someone like Brooks fights to stop tax increases in Oakland county.

  • Jeff Smith

    How did Brooks bring down Detroit??? He is in Oakland county which is not Detroit, the people that brought down Detorit are Coleman Young, Kwame, and any Wayne county politician.


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Low-income residents of Detroit and Milwaukee face formidable obstacles to job access. These two Rust Belt regions are consistently ranked among the most segregated in the country, and neither has a good transit system. In both regions, the places that have been growing and adding jobs fastest have been been overwhelmingly sprawling, suburban areas inaccessible to people without cars. A 2013 Brookings study […]