The Michigan Chronicle supports the $2.9 billion Regional Transportation millage because there is really no other choice. Southeastern Michigan desperately needs a radical upgrade to its public transportation system if we are to have any hope of sustaining Detroit’s comeback beyond this initial hopeful burst and into the foreseeable future. This isn’t just about transporting white suburbanites to the game and back; this is about transporting Detroiters to where the jobs are, both inside the city as well as beyond 8 Mile Road. This is about making good on the promise to make Detroit a modern city that works for all of its residents. Not just the newly arrived with well-paying jobs already in hand, or the young, single artistic urbanites for whom Detroit serves as inspiration, but for those of us who have been here through the worst of times as well as what appears to be a comeback, even if an uneven one.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the difference between the development of a functional regional transportation system and allowing this opportunity to fade away is the difference between survival and counting down the days until we slip right backwards into the economic desperation we thought we had left behind.
Having said all of that, this is not to say that we don’t have concerns about the millage proposal, because we certainly do. The primary concern is that the desperate need for a regional transportation system should not be used as an excuse to strong-arm the Detroit vote into supporting a measure that does not sufficiently address all of Detroit’s pressing transportation needs, especially in the city’s isolated neighborhoods, while focusing more early attention on cross-border transportation issues.
More specifically, upgrading the quality of public transportation for Detroit’s neighborhoods must be an equal priority with providing transportation to and from the suburbs. According to Detroit’s Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, far too many of Detroit’s neighborhood bus routes operating within the city limits still suffer from hour-long waits while those routes headed out of town, such as the Gratiot and the Woodward line, have apparently been prioritized for shortened wait times. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed right away.
Another concern raised by the ATU that we share is that Detroit (DDOT) drivers are currently paid $10,000 a year less than SMART drivers. Should the RTA proposal pass, placing the RTA as the top decision-making body for transit in the region, then there is no way Detroit drivers should settle for making less than their suburban counterparts once they become part of the same system.
But at the end of the day, despite these troubling issues, we simply can’t justify a ‘no’ vote against the RTA millage proposal after all the time and effort it has taken to get our region to this point where we finally have a realistic chance of coming together to create the sort of public transportation system we should have had years ago, and that is already present in every other major city in the country.
The possibility that the issue can be revisited again in four years should it fail this time around, meaning that we should be willing to wait four years to get it right, is simply not an acceptable option. The momentum is here now, and anyone who knows anything about political momentum knows that what’s here today can so easily be gone tomorrow.
So what does that tell you about the chances for four years from now?