Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Detroit

Detroit Transit, Already in Desperate Situation, to Lose Money to Suburbs

3:19 PM EDT on April 26, 2013

Detroit has perhaps the worst transit crisis in the country on its hands right now. Almost a quarter of Detroit residents do not have access to an automobile, yet transit riders have to endure an unreliable system where the bus might never show, making it harder for economically vulnerable people to access jobs.

So transit advocates cheered when the Detroit region came together late last year to establish a regional transit authority, which would replace the previous regime of separate urban and suburban transit systems. The move assured greater efficiency, a tiny bit more money, and a federal grant to begin work on a small, light-rail starter line.

But now Detroit stands to lose 22 percent of its transit funding to wealthier suburbanites. In the introductory period before the regional transit system is fully organized, Detroit's embattled transit system has been dealt another painful blow. Yesterday the news broke that metro Detroit's regional planning agency, SEMCOG, would be changing the regional funding formula, transferring $7 million out of Detroit transit and into the suburban system.

DDOT -- the city agency that manages transit in the Motor City -- is already woefully underfunded, with its revenues coming out of the city's nearly bankrupt general fund. The state last month appointed an emergency fiscal manager for the city who will have nearly unlimited leeway to cut programs.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments had been entrusted as the financial agent for the agencies during the transition period while the RTA gets organized. SEMCOG officials told the Detroit Free Press yesterday that the decision to reduce Detroit's share of the regional transit funding from 65 percent to 51 percent was the result of direction from the Federal Transit Administration. A spokesman for Governor Rick Snyder said SEMCOG was under instructions from the FTA to "create a formula that’s more technically based and less arbitrary.”

SEMCOG Executive Director Paul Tait said the old system was outdated and inconsistent with federal law. The changes would only be in effect for a year and would only affect capital funds.

FTA officials, meanwhile, indicated to the Free Press that the local agencies have broad authority to establish funding guidelines. The agency indicated it would not intervene.

Meanwhile, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing told the Free Press “this is the worst thing I think they could do to us.”

Stephen Hendersen of the Detroit Free Press blasted SEMCOG yesterday:

We’ve got two dysfunctional bus systems. We don’t fund either adequately or rationally.

Until the RTA gets up to speed, we just need everyone to avoid committing further cardinal errors. Don’t do dumb stuff that will make transit — already one of our region’s most embarrassing drawbacks — any worse.

Apparently, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments didn’t get the memo.

SEMCOG was subject to a civil rights lawsuit during the early part of the last decade, when advocates for the poor filed a complaint that the agency was "heavily biased against poorer and more densely populated communities like Detroit and its inner ring of suburbs."

Unfortunately, civil rights protections for transportation aren't very strong, and federal officials, evidenced by this case, are hesitant to intervene in local matters. In not doing so, they tacitly endorse SEMCOG's methods, and that means transit-dependent people in Detroit are out of luck once again.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

NYC Debuts Public E-Bike Charging for Delivery Workers

Finally, they’re taking charge! The city’s first public e-bike charging station opened in Cooper Square on Thursday — the start of an overdue six-month pilot that is part of a “Charge Safe Ride Safe Action Plan” for delivery workers that Mayor Adams announced last year.

March 1, 2024

Friday’s Headlines Have Questions

What's an optimal rebate to get people to buy e-bikes without wasting money on those who were going to buy one anyway?

March 1, 2024

To Recruit Transit Workers, More Than Just Higher Pay Is Needed

Labor shortages continue threatening public transit systems, and a new report adds another layer to the conversation.

February 29, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: Streets for Skateboards

Aaron Breetwor on skateboards for transportation and designing streets for safer skateboarding.

February 29, 2024

Agencies Need to Use Federal Funding to Buy Land for Transit Oriented Development

Transit agencies do not prioritize transit-adjacent housing development often because they lack funding to acquire land.

February 29, 2024
See all posts