Transportation Riders United

Dwight Burdette / Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding the city of Detroit $26 million to buy 50 new buses. 

Long wait times and broken-down buses have been a problem in the city, as it's struggled to keep its aging fleet in working order. 

"Like any good triage, you've got to tackle the biggest things first," Megan Owens said. Owens is executive director of Transportation Riders United, a non-profit that aims to improve public transportation in downtown Detroit. "The biggest things are having enough working buses, and having enough people to drive them." 

Lawmakers in Lansing are working out details of legislation that would create a regional transportation authority in southeast Michigan.

Governor Snyder has called for such an authority to coordinate Metro Detroit’s bus systems, and provide funding for them and future mass transit projects.

Detroit has a city-run bus system, and a regional bus system that serves both city and suburbs. But despite mounting troubles for both, past efforts to merge them have always failed.

Megan Owens, President of the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, said it’s unrealistic to expect those systems to merge or go away.

“And actually it’s not necessary," Owens said. "A lot of cities have multiple transit providers. But what they have that we don’t is one agency that can actively coordinate and oversee them from a regional level.”

Owens said prior efforts to create a regional authority have always stumbled over issues of "power and money"--whether any party would have veto power, for example, and how money would be divided between municipalities. Those issues are being hammered out behind the scenes in Lansing.

A spokesman for State Senator Tom Casperson, chairman of the Senate Transportation committee, said he expects legislation will be introduced as early as this week or immediately after the winter recess.