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Will mass transit get another chance in southeast Michigan?

May 11, 2018

Panelists from left to right: Paul Hillegonds, Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Megan Owens, Jack Lessenberry (host), and Leon Drolet.
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio’s Issues & Ale team hit the road again Wednesday night. This time, they stopped at Fillmore 13 Brewery in Pontiac to talk about the future of regional mass transit.

Hosting the event was Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Panelists included:

Michigan Radio’s Issues & Ale team invited both Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel to join the panel. Both declined the invitation.

Audience members were invited to ask questions of the panel.
Credit Liesl Scullen

Back in 2016, there was a proposal for a mass transit system on the ballot in southeast Michigan.

It lost “very narrowly,” Lessenberry said – by 1% of the vote.

He said the proposal won “overwhelmingly” in Washtenaw County. It won in Wayne County, but not by as much as people expected. It lost by about 1000  out of 650,000 votes in Oakland County, and got “creamed” in Macomb County.

With that in mind, Lessenberry asked the panelists what they see as the next step for regional mass transit in this part of the state.

Hillegonds said the RTA is inviting public comment right now on a revised transit plan. Among other things, the plan includes 15 bus routes throughout the region that would run every 15 minutes, a commuter train between Ann Arbor and Detroit, and investment in local communities' transit needs. He said the goal is for voters to decide, during this year’s general election, whether to tax themselves and implement the plan.

Before the plan can make its way onto the ballot, the RTA board has to approve it.

The event took place at Fillmore 13 Brewery in Pontiac.
Credit Steve Chrypinski / Michigan Radio

“I’m certainly very optimistic that we will have an opportunity to vote on regional transit this November,” Owens said.

She said a lot of people knew something needed to be done about transit back in 2016. They just didn’t know enough about the proposed plan, or fully understand how mass transit would benefit communities.

Drolet disagreed.

“Mass transit as you know it is already dead,” he said.

He said it’s declining in many metropolitan areas across the country.

"The job is to help people get where they need to go who may not be able to afford a car for whatever reason, or have a reason they can't drive a car," he said. "But... transit doesn't have to be a bus."

He suggests getting rid of the "incredible cost" of the bus system in favor of a system that relies on Uber or Lyft.

For the full conversation, listen above.

For information on upcoming Issues & Ale events, click here.