Editorial: Vote yes on transit tax


Metro Detroit remains one of the only major metropolitan areas without a comprehensive mass transit system.

While the region has plenty of buses — including the Detroit system and the SMART suburban authority — what it lacks is a coordinated network of buses that would truly serve the broad swath of commuters.

The best, and perhaps only chance Metro Detroit has for getting an effective transportation system is to support the Regional Transit Authority proposal on the November 8 ballot. We urge a Yes vote on the measure, which would enact a 1.2 mill tax to support a greatly expanded bus system in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

With the money, about $2.3 billion over 20 years, the RTA promises to coordinate DDOT, SMART and the Ann Arbor transit system to allow commuters to get anywhere in the region by bus.

If it works, that would be a huge improvement over what Metro Detroiters have now. Fewer than 10 percent of area residents travel by buses today, largely because of the unreliability of the service. RTA is promising not just to make the current bus service more efficient, but also to add rapid buses to the major thoroughfares to more quickly get commuters to their jobs.

It will also include rail service from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and a direct bus service to Detroit Metro Airport.

The goal of the RTA is to make buses a viable option for more than just the poor and carless. To that end, it will enhance service in suburban communities and add more dial-a-ride buses to serve seniors and the infirm.

For years, this region has gotten by relying almost solely on automobiles and freeways to meet its commuting needs. But the world of transportation has changed, and is still changing.

The sudden surge in interest in living and working in downtown Detroit has led to congestion and parking shortages. Younger workers increasingly are eschewing automobiles and demanding mass transit.

And job opportunities for Detroiters are more often than not in the suburbs.

A well-working transit system is essential to the economic growth of this region.

We have some concerns with the RTA proposal. It adds another layer of taxes on top of what residents are already paying to support their current bus systems. It would have been preferable had the legislation forming the RTA been able to dissolve those existing systems and create a single, unified transit authority.

It’s also troubling that the RTA plans don’t incorporate the new models of mobility, such as Uber and Lyft. Those ride-for-hire services could eliminate the need for dial-a-ride buses to take seniors to and from doctor visits.

And unless large numbers of commuters sign on to the bus service, the rapid buses that will enjoy dedicated lanes on Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan avenues could actually worsen congestion.

Still, the benefits of finally moving Metro Detroit into the modern era of transportation outweigh our skepticism.

Voters in the four counties served by the RTA should vote Yes on this measure.