“And it always will have.” By that, they meant that the country would probably never get it together to realize its full potential.
That’s how I’ve always seen mass transit in Michigan. Everybody thinks we need it. Everybody thinks other people should ride it, and nobody wants to spend any money to build it.
The problem, of course, was that this has always been the automobile state. Mass transit was for cleaning ladies. Two years ago, this seemed about to change.
State Representative Marie Donigan of Royal Oak, mass transit’s biggest booster in the legislature, was convinced things were going to move. There was federal money for a demonstration project, light rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor.
There was federal start-up money for light rail along Woodward, along with growing awareness that fossil fuel would run out some day. Well, guess what. Nothing happened.
To make something happen would require money, and political will, and we are very short on both those commodities right now.
Donigan, who has to be gravely disappointed, is now in her last few months in office, thanks to term limits. She won’t be there to see the progress she hoped for. Now, things may even go backward.
In a final attempt to open a door to the future, she has introduced bills to establish a Metropolitan Detroit Regional Transportation Authority. Approval of something like this is essential; failure could jeopardize further federal aid. Plus, the only mass transit the region now has is in jeopardy. The city of Detroit is subsidizing its imperfect bus system to the tune of $80 million a year.
But the cash-strapped city is flirting with insolvency, and won’t be able to do that much longer. Meanwhile, the suburban SMART bus system is also running into problems.
Communities there are cash-strapped too, and some are voting, or threatening to vote, to pull out. What’s been needed for a long time is one regional bus system, so that those without cars, mainly in Detroit, can get to jobs that exist, mainly in the suburbs. To make this happen, a regional authority is needed. Donigan’s bills provide for one.
She would set up a five-member board, with representatives appointed by Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, Detroit’s mayor and the governor. That makes a lot of sense.
There may be some tweaking necessary; requiring any proposed major projects to be submitted to a vote of the people, say, or requiring unanimous or super-majority consent from the board.
But what is important that we have a balanced system that has the power to make things happen. Getting this done this year would seem almost impossible. The legislature hasn’t resolved either the budget or the Detroit River bridge issues.
The members want to get home to campaign. The House and Senate have difficulty agreeing on anything. Yet if they don’t make this happen this year, it will be a disaster.
The entire leadership will be out of office next year, and the new legislators would have to start over learning the issues from scratch. We elect our representatives to act in the people’s interest and pay them reasonably well to do so.
The time to act on this really is now.