RTA transit overhaul millage nears rejection

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Regional Transit Authority millage to vastly improve mass transit in southeast Michigan was heading to rejection with one precinct yet to report Wednesday morning.

A regional ballot proposal seeks a tax increase of 1.2 mills for 20 years to create and operate a public transportation system in Metro Detroit.

The 20-year, 1.2-mill property tax, which would raise $4.6 billion for mass transit, was losing by more than 18,000 votes with all precincts reporting except for one in Wayne County early Wednesday.

Voters in Oakland and Macomb counties rejected the proposal. Washtenaw County voters approved the tax with 56 percent support while the proposal was succeeding in Wayne County at almost 53 percent.

Michael Ford, CEO of the RTA, said Tuesday night that although it wasn’t looking good for the millage’s success, he still wanted to see more results coming in from Wayne County before admitting defeat.

“We’ll have to understand where the problems were, if it does fail,and do some reassessment and I’ll need to speak to my board and talk to our operatives to see why if it does go down where the problems were and what will we need to do differently,” Ford said. “I’m not really prepared to get to that level until I know for sure. I thought it would be close, so I’m not totally surprised.”

Transit officials hoped the millage would signify a change to the image of the Motor City from its dependence on cars to becoming like other big cities with improving its mass transit to get people to jobs and appeal to millennials thirsting for better options.

“We’ve put it all on the field and now we have to learn whether or not the region believes in the plan and wants to see this region move forward,” said Tiffany Gunter, the chief operating officer for the RTA.

The goal was to “create transformative change in this region” with transit improvements that “we believe the region can buy into,” Gunter said.

The millage will cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $120 annually, RTA officials estimate. A simple majority of voters in the four counties was needed for the measure to pass.

“Approval today of this millage would be a profoundly important step for creating rapid, reliable, regional public transportation,” Gunter said.

The millage would create bus rapid transit, a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, an airport shuttle service, a regional fare card system and other service changes.

Lucas Gogliotti, 26, has lived in Detroit the past 2 1/2 years. Though he has a car, he said he’d use the commuter rail to get from Detroit to Ann Arbor if the proposal passes.

“Right now, Detroit has very limited public transportation. I think that needs to be improved significantly,” he said after voting yes for the proposal at the United Methodist Church on Woodward.

But Brian King, 35, of Troy, said he couldn’t support the millage: He doesn’t see himself using it, and it’s too much in taxes for his taste, he said.

“I don’t think I would benefit from it at all. For that point alone, I voted no,” said King, a police officer in Detroit. “The money ... obviously it’s a good amount of money over 20 years. People like to drive their cars. We’re the Motor City, right?”

Supporters say the proposal would give Metro Detroit a stronger, and more coordinated, mass transit system that has eluded the area for decades. Opponents say the plan is outdated and too expensive, drivers are wedded to their vehicles and future technology such as driverless cars and ride hailing are better than buses and trains.

Mark Anderson, 34, of Roseville said he hopes the proposal fails.

The maintenance company worker said he doesn’t think the mass transit plan will work.

“I think it’s pretty much a waste of money,” he said. “Plus, the plan is for 20 years. What if it fails in the first couple of years? Then what? Do we keep throwing money into it? I don’t think they have a viable plan to make it work.

“I understand that mass transit can benefit some people, but I don’t like how they lock it in for 20 years. There should be some kind of out, but there isn’t.”

Alice Semon, 51, said she supported the RTA because she wants a public transportation system that will take her from Bloomfield Hills to downtown Detroit.

“We need a better bus system,” she said. “They need to have more buses that are more consistent.”

Trevor Harris, 25, Bloomfield Hills, said he supported the millage and it is long overdue.

“I think we’ve been lacking a reliable transit system especially outside of the city,” Harris said. “People need to be able to access jobs and resources and they may not be able to because they don’t have a car.”


(313) 223-2620

Staff Writers Stephanie Steinberg and Charles E. Ramirez contributed.

Unofficial RTA results

Partial results

Yes: 894,297 -- 49.4 percent

No: 912,605 -- 50.5 percent