ATU President Fred Westbrook

ATU President Fred Westbrook

Dear Editor:

The article in the Aug. 24 edition of the Michigan Chronicle entitled, “Is The RTA Anti- Detroit” fell far short of the standard of objectivity and fairness that metro Detroiters have come to expect from the Michigan Chronicle. Not only were the differing views of both sides of this argument grossly skewed against the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), but the tone of the article ridiculed and over-simplified a dispute that has been decades in the making.

While the writer conceded that “something triggered the discontent” of 843 Detroiters who joined our petition and complaint and that ATU gave members something to “complain about,” he dismissed our argument out of hand and then rendered a detailed, extensive rehash of the RTA’s position.

There is not a rational thinking leader in the metro Detroit area who does not subscribe to inevitability and necessity of a regional transportation system. Our issue with the Regional Transit Authority is this: How do we fairly and progressively get there? Do we want two transit systems that are separate and unequal? That is what we will have if there is no seamless connectivity between the systems.

Our position is simple and it is one we hope will be adopted by the Detroit City Council and ultimately the voting public before each gives its support of the RTA funding millage proposed for the November ballot. Detroit funding should be restored to the Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT). The adoption of a new funding formula by the RTA board created a loss of $8 million for D-DOT and shifted it to SMART. That formula went from 65 percent to Detroit versus 35 percent for SMART to 50 percent for Detroit and 50 percent for SMART. There were more egregious formulas considered, including one that would have reduced D-DOT’s share of the pie to 19 percent.

When we spoke with Mayor Mike Duggan and Dan Dirks during a recent meeting, the mayor was outraged at ATU for accusing the two of downplaying the importance of the $8 million loss because of their former ties to SMART ( Duggan and Dirks both served as executives with SMART in the past). They both dismissed it as ONLY capital money. We reminded them that D-DOT has closed one terminal and has another in bad disrepair. The city could have used that money to effect repair of D-DOT infrastructure. After a cooling off, Duggan said he agreed that Detroit should have the majority share of transit funding but then said that was unlikely because Detroit has one vote on the RTA board. We told him that we could help him get the funding back by challenging the RTA.

Weakened routes in Detroit must be improved so that riders do not have to wait more than 25 minutes for a coach – currently they can wait as long as an hour on some routes. The RTA will argue that Detroit’s population has decreased and that justifies reducing share of funding. However, D-DOT still typically carries three passengers for every one passenger carried by SMART, so how can this be fair. Long waits for service throughout the city and poor maintenance of coaches – all due to lack of resources and funding – contributed to the loss of ridership that the RTA uses as its reason for changing the city’s funding. It’s like a doctor blaming the patient for being sick. Long waits present problems for the elderly, workers, school children and creates a potential for crimes to occur. How do we connect to these super routes from home?

We were forced to choose which routes we would get for this new upcoming REFLEX service Woodward or Gratiot, both which represent an important part of our operating funds historically. Now that funding will become impacted by this wasteful duplicated service.

There needs to be wage parity between SMART and D-DOT drivers, thereby maintaining service quality and customer satisfaction. Although this may seem more important to the Union than to the public, it should be understood that the ATU has in the past, and currently, has fought for better service that benefits Detroit voters and the poor people who don’t have a voice in the political system. The history of this Union has been one of fighting for better and safer transportation. It is insulting to encroach on D-DOT’s most productive routes and pay Detroit drivers less for doing the same work that SMART drivers do, while bleeding the central city bus system (D-DOT) of badly needed funds.

The independence and autonomy of the Detroit Department of Transportation is on the verge of being sacrificed for the sake of the Regional Transit Authority and bus service within the boundaries of the City of Detroit will suffer for it. Service will be worse unless major changes are made. Beyond the wages it is a matter of pride in OUR city that we became victims of a discriminating and bias funding formula change.

The writer of the Chronicle editorial – rather than a news story the piece smacked of commentary and opinion – did not even answer his own headline: The RTA as it is envisioned in the November ballot proposal is anti-Detroit, given the shifting of funds to SMART. There is not one iota of truth to proposition that the RTA will benefit D-DOT much less the citizens of Detroit. He also failed to print the statistics that ATU Union provided:

  • 83% of Detroit’s population is African American
  • 41% of Wayne County’s population is African American
  • Only 14% of Oakland County’s population is African American compared to 77% white
  • Only 9% of Macomb County’s population is African American, compared to 85% white

The areas with the largest African American population are receiving funding cuts, while the areas with the largest white population are enjoying funding increases, even though those areas serve fewer riders. Add to that mix that the RTA does not take into consideration one of the most condemning aspects of this formula change and its impact on those living below poverty level:

  • 40% of Detroit residents live below the federal poverty level
  • 24% in Wayne County
  • Compared to Oakland County only 10% and Macomb County 12%

The county executive in Oakland and Macomb counties are today’s modern day Sheriffs of Nottingham robbing the poor and giving to the rich. They either out negotiated Detroit representatives in the most recent RTA negotiations, making it almost impossible to ever get the formula back or there is an attempt to weaken D-DOT either by omission or commission. Who is Standing UP for Detroit? This is the theme we will continue to ask of our city councils, the mayor, and all civil rights activists who need to let their voices be heard.

Where is the fairness in cutting the budget for D-DOT when the system services more than 100,000 riders each day compared to the 35,000 handled by SMART daily? Where is the fairness when more than half of all riders – D-DOT and SMART – are Detroit residents? In what world is it fair to expect Detroit to close facilities or let its infrastructure fall in disrepair when SMART has yet to close one facility?

What is the benefit of an enhanced suburban system that transports workers to outer rim employment if workers in the city cannot utilize feeder routes or must wait extraordinary times just to catch a D-DOT bus to begin their connections? Plans are to ask the voters of all four counties and the city to approve a property tax millage for regional transit in November. What you must consider is that changing the formula caused D-DOT to lose $8.2 million annually and will be shifted to SMART, and the RTA millage is only going to yield 8 million, so what do we gain? Nothing, we will be $200,000 in the hole.

Taking the sum total of all our complaints into consideration, the composition of the RTA board is not such that Detroit’s needs can be satisfied, unless those needs are addressed prior to the funding and establishment of the RTA structure. Anything less than satisfaction of those pressing needs is in fact discriminatory and harmful to Detroit.

 

 

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