Agency urges public to share regional transit visions

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The message Tuesday from regional transportation advocates was simple: Tell us what future transit should look like in the region and convince everyone to help fund it.

The Regional Transit Authority held a rally in downtown Detroit as the agency urged the public to share their views for its regional master plan and hoped to spark momentum going into 2016, when voters will be asked to approve a tax increase to fund bus rapid transit projects in Metro Detroit.

The effort begins next week in earnest with five public meetings in Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

“Right now we don’t invest in public transportation in this region,” said Michael Ford, CEO of the RTA, adding that 48 million people use four existing transit systems in the region, mostly by bus. “Think about this: How many people can get to where they need to go right now? There’s need for frequency, late-night service, earlier-morning service, so people can get to jobs and get home, so people can get to shows and get home, so people can get to sporting events and get home.”

Ford said the master plan needs to be completed by year’s end and it will include rapid transit projects, such as the proposed Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot lines. The RTA operations itself would also be funded through a ballot initiative, which is expected to go before voters in the fall 2016.

The rally was also attended by Marisol Simon, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration, who said “there’s been a great support for this region” from the federal level and “a real push to help the folks locally.”

Simon warned that if voters don’t approve a tax hike proposal next year, “it’s a real risk to this community in terms of moving forward economically. Across the country, those regions that have a robust regional transit system just flourish, and those that don’t wither.”

Other local officials agree, and hope that projects like the M-1 Rail streetcar project up Woodward Avenue — slated to open in the fall 2016 — will help sell transit needs to a public skeptical of increased taxes.

“We are not going to be able to convince people to raise taxes without people understanding what the value is,” said Paul Hillegonds, the chairman of the RTA board. “That’s the beauty of this master planning process. It’s the opportunity to engage people in how can comprehensive transit add value to our lives whether we use it directly or family members or neighbors use it for basic needs and to have access to the things we enjoy doing in life.”

The meetings, all to be held 1-7:30 p.m., are scheduled for:

■Monday, Eastern Michigan University Student Center, 900 Oakwood St., Ypsilanti.

■Tuesday, May 19, Wayne County Community College District Northwest Campus, 8200 West Outer Drive, Detroit.

■Tuesday, May 19, University of Michigan Dearborn campus, 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn.

■ Wednesday, May 20, Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Community Hall, 44575 Garfield Road, Clinton Township.

■Thursday, May 21, Royal Oak Detroit Elks Lodge, 2401 E. Fourth Street, Royal Oak.

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming