What he meant by that was that it was a giant nation full of promise which somehow always fails to fulfill its potential.
In recent years, I’ve often thought of that slogan. Not, however, in connection with Brazil, but in terms of mass transit and Michigan.
We are always said to be just on the verge of mass transit. Light rail on Woodward, or extending the people mover in Detroit, or more recently, expanded commuter rail service.
But somehow, it never happens.
Barely three months ago, officials of SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, were talking about daily commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor by the end of October. Carmine Palombo, SEMCOG’s director of transportation programs, was talking about four trips a day.
This was to be sort of a demonstration project. It would be relatively easy, because the track is already there. The hope was that when people saw how convenient it was, funding for more lines would follow. But then the inevitable “Brazil moment” arrived.
The money SEMCOG was counting on fell through.
Local leaders have raised thirty-three million dollars for the project, but need something like fifty million more. They were counting on a hundred million dollars in federal funds.
But Washington said no. The cost-per-rider would be too high, the feds said. There is another problem. Even if everything worked out, they’d still need at least $10 million dollars a year for basic operating costs. SEMCOG hasn‘t got it.
“The project isn’t dead,” Palombo told the Detroit News, trying to put the best possible spin on his commuter train wreck. “But we have two big problems: We have no one to run it,” long-term. Additionally, he added, they lack a stable, “dedicated, source of funding.” If that doesn’t mean the project is dead, it does put it in sort of the same category as NASA’s plans to go to Mars.
They are still talking about offering commuter train service to some special events. But … don’t hold your breath. The commuter rail delay was greeted with dismay. Mass transit is something that everybody says they want. But two things aren’t clear:
First: Would people really use mass transit on a regular basis if it was available - or just hope their neighbors would?
Second: Are people willing to pay for it? Everybody is willing, of course to apply for federal funds. But even if they come, other money is likely to be needed for any system. SEMCOG‘s Palombo observed that “No matter how popular the service proves to be, it will die without proper state funding.” His preferred solution would be a rise in the gas and vehicle registration tax, with some of the money used for mass transit, and some to fix our wretched roads.
But, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop has vowed no new revenue for anything, no matter what. So it looks like we will go on thinking that mass transit is the wave of the future.
We’ll just leave it to other states to do it. Which should make thing interesting for Michigan when the petroleum finally runs out.