Man Walks 21 Miles to Commute Each Day Because of Detroit’s Awful Transit

A piece in the Detroit Free Press about 56-year-old factory worker James Robertson and his 21-mile round-trip walking commute to the Detroit suburbs is going viral this week. It is both an amazing story of individual perseverance and a scathing indictment of a failing transportation system.

Robertson’s total commute is actually a 46-mile round-trip, split between different buses and a marathon walk. He has been taking this route to reach his job in Rochester Hills from his home in Detroit since his Honda Accord died 10 years ago, he told the Detroit Free Press. Baldwin can’t afford a new car on the wages from his $10-an-hour job.

Despite this formidable obstacle, Robertson has never missed a day of work. “I can’t imagine not working,” he told the paper.

Readers from around the country who were inspired by Robertson’s story have raised $72,000 for him (at the time we published), more than enough to get a car. But a crowdfunded car can’t help everyone who’s in a similar situation in Detroit.

CeCe Grant, executive director of Americans for Transit, says Robertson’s situation is “partially by cruel design.” Detroit’s suburban bus system, SMART, allows municipalities to “opt-out.” That “has always sported a sharp cultural edge, because it nudges up against the notion that some communities don’t want ‘those people,’ be they Detroiters or blacks or bus riders, coming through their locales,” she said. “Because Rochester Hills doesn’t participate in SMART, Robertson must walk the last seven miles of his journey to work — after taking a SMART bus as far as it can reach into Oakland County.”

Detroit is in the bottom tier of major American metros when it comes to job accessibility via transit, according to the University of Minnesota’s Access Across America study, rating below sprawling Sunbelt cities like Atlanta and Tampa.

That could change with the passage of legislation to fund a new regional transit agency for Detroit, which will be on the ballot later this year. But the long campaign for a stable regional transit system will have to overcome some unfortunate timing. Writing for U.S. News and World Report, The Century Foundation’s Jacob Anbinder notes that Governor Rick Snyder will appeal to voters in May to raise $1.2 billion in taxes for the state’s infrastructure — mostly roads. Will metro Detroit residents have the appetite for another transportation tax increase when they vote on Detroit’s RTA in November?

They’ll have to, or else other people like Robertson will remain cut off from jobs by a car-centric transportation system.

“Even if my situation changes, I’ll never forget, there are so many other people who are in my situation,” Robertson told the Detroit Free Press.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Transit Vote 2016: With Historic Decision, Detroit Could Heal Old Divides

|
We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Detroit. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis and Seattle 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 […]

The $125,000 Commute, Not as Uncommon as You’d Think

|
We know car commuting is expensive, more expensive than is commonly recognized. That’s because every time we get in the car, we’re not presented with a bill for gas, maintenance, insurance, lost productivity, etc. Let’s say the tabulation was all there: the cost of your car commute. Maybe even included with mortgage paperwork, so everyone […]