Metro Detroit residents sound off on public transit

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
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Dearborn — Even though it took him nearly two hours on two different buses, John Gruda was eager to make it to a public transit meeting sponsored by the Regional Transit Authority.

To the 62-year-old retired Detroiter, it's simple: transit needs a boost — and the public needs to better know its benefits.

That's the goal of public information sessions this week — to give residents in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties the chance to give input on the RTA's master plan and get a glimpse at future projects, such as bus rapid transit.

"I've long felt the need for a regional transit system," said Gruda, who spent more than an hour at the University of Michigan-Dearborn with project consultants. "It doesn't make any sense to me with so many people having the need to be able to get around and don't have cars, both in the suburbs and in the city."

Tuesday's session, with one simultaneous session in Detroit at Wayne County Community College, was the second day of meetings. Meetings are to be held Wednesday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts from 1-7:30 p.m. and in Royal Oak Detroit Elks Lodge during the same hours Thursday.

Michael Ford, CEO of the RTA, said the importance of these meetings is illustrated in how many hours it took Gruda to arrive. The transit system, he said, should be "simpler" and more efficient.

Ford said people "have vowed to get more people involved" and build momentum for a 2016 ballot initiative. Voters will be asked to fund the RTA and three bus rapid transit routes up Woodward from Detroit to Pontiac, Michigan Avenue from Detroit to Ann Arbor, and up Gratiot in Detroit to M-59.

Other meetings are planned the next three months to contribute to the RTA's master plan, which is expected to be completed by year's end. At that point, transit officials say, the cost of the ballot initiative — as well as what the RTA should be focused on — will be included.

RTA officials have been studying ways to better promote regional cooperation, such as a unified fare system.

Inkster Mayor Hilliard Hampton attended the Dearborn session.

"We've been at such a deficit for such a long time, we don't really appreciate the loss or what we don't have until we travel elsewhere to other urban centers and see that the abundance of rapid transportation systems have added economic development and opportunities," Hampton said.

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