On the bus
Push for a regional transit authority gains traction locally, but not with Lansing
Published: October 3, 2012
Such thinking, if you can call it that, fails to grasp the fact that there's good reason every other major metropolitan area of the country subsidizes a coordinated regional transit system: It provides a tremendous boost to local economies, making everyone better off whether they use the system or not.
As Townsend testified: "The decisions we make, the strategies we follow, the money we spend on transportation, have a profound influence on the shape of our communities, our quality of life, and our ability to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. ... The lack of adequate, efficient transit service is as much a suburban issue as it is an urban concern. Southeast Michigan, like every other Michigan metro, is a regional pool of talent, jobs and tax base, and it is high time that we started connecting our communities and giving our people attractive, reliable choices for how to get around."
As for the radically misplaced notion that this is something that can be placed in the hands of the private sector, we'd like to point out that the bus carrying activists to Lansing last week belongs to the Detroit Bus Company, which was founded by 25-year-old entrepreneur Andy Didorosi. While his company fills a niche, Didorosi (who was recently featured in a Metro Times cover story about the trend of younger people driving less) is the first to point out that the private sector simply cannot provide the kind of coordinated, regional system metro Detroit so desperately needs.
Mike Sedlak, who chairs the executive committee of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), pointed out to the committee that, although the Detroit area is the 12th largest metro region in the United States, it is rated 109th in terms of transit service.
"Reliable, functional transit means growth and opportunity," he said.
By some estimates, every $1 invested in transit produces $4 to $8 in private-sector development.
Joining Didorosi on the bus ride last week were older activists like Reese, a suburban businessman, a representative of the nonprofit Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and a few twentysomething organizers from the faith-based group MOSES (an acronym for Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength). MOSES is involved in the issue of transportation because its member congregations have said loud and clear that it's an issue that has a huge impact on the people they serve.
Also on the bus was Megan Owens, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Transportation Riders United. Like the others aboard, she's hopeful the RTA legislation will make it past the obstructionists controlling the Legislature and land on Snyder's desk.
Getting it there, though, is going to take pressure, both from the top down and the bottom up. Business leaders, politicians and grassroots activists need to exert all the influence they can to help the GOP leadership in the House and Senate see the light.
What's daunting is that she describes this as the "easy" part. If and when the RTA is created, it will be up to voters in four counties to approve funding it.
For now, though, the focus is on the Legislature, which doesn't appear to have the same sense of urgency those on the bus have. Transportation Committee Chair Paul Oppsomer said another hearing will be necessary to more closely examine the "technical" aspects of the proposal.
So, for now, the focus remains on taking that first crucial step.
The price of not doing that is simply too high.
"I represent a district where you can walk down the street and are as likely to hear conservative viewpoints being expressed as liberal," concluded Rep. Townsend of Royal Oak. "But there is one thing every parent or grandparent I talk to can agree on: You should not have to hit the highway to see your kids. The people of southeast Michigan are sick of exporting their college-educated kids to thriving metro regions in other sates that have nothing southeast Michigan can't offer except one thing: mass transit.
"After 40 years and 23 attempts, with your input and help we will be able to tell our grandchildren that 24 was the charm; that we finally came together around a vision for a regional transit system that eliminates waste and duplication and provides an attractive environment for knowledge workers and entrepreneurs. And if we do that there's a much better chance that you won't have to leave town to tell your grandchildren that story."
Cindy Reese is definitely on board with that thinking.
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