Editorial: Rework transit proposal

The Detroit News

The narrow loss Tuesday of the Regional Transit Authority millage proposal to transform Metro Detroit’s public transit system should not mean an end to the quest for better transportation options in the region.

There remains a strong demand for modern public transit in and around Detroit, which has lagged other major U.S. cities in building such an infrastructure. Now the region must decide what’s next in this critical area. The solution holds implications for Detroit’s overall revival and its evolving relationship with surrounding suburbs.

Voters ultimately rejected this specific proposal — perhaps due to its relatively high per household cost. That doesn’t mean the idea of improved transit will die, but it does need to be reworked. A new proposal can’t come up until 2018.

The 2016 measure would have cost homeowners with a taxable value of $79,000 about $95 per year. For homes with a taxable value of $100,000 the cost would have increased to $120 per year. Altogether the millage would have raised $3 billion over 20 years and allowed the region to access $1.7 billion in state and federal funds.

Instead of focusing on an expensive, cumbersome 20-year plan, residents might be more interested in smaller, more moderate steps toward an improved regional transit system. The passage of the SMART millage just two years ago to improve bus service throughout the region indicates this could be more appealing to voters.

Another concern may have been handing over billions of dollars to transportation programs that have so far offered sub-standard performance. Agencies such as DDOT and SMART may need to make their buses safer, cleaner and more reliable before voters hand them more cash. That, too, can be accomplished over the next two years.

There’s also no guarantee the cost would have been limited to the original proposal. Such infrastructure projects are notorious for being delayed and over budget.

But Metro Detroit does need more transportation options. Younger, prospective residents in particular note the need for modern public transportation. Their buy-in to the city’s future is critical.

Improved service is also needed to get Detroit’s underemployed population back to work. Many low-income workers are forced to travel to the suburbs for entry-level jobs, and the region’s rickety system is an added drag on their situations.

One option is for the various bus systems to fully embrace the auto industry’s future of mobility and connectivity. Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing and carpooling services — for recreation as well as for those with limited access to health care and job prospects — have exploded here, and they’ve only just begun.

Mayor Mike Duggan said in September the city is looking to incorporate mobility passes into government-subsidized transit programs. That’s a great idea, and requires no infrastructure build out. Better yet, those kinds of solutions can begin improving the quality of life for Detroiters right away.

The region will need to get more creative in how it addresses the ongoing transportation issue now that the RTA proposal has failed.

Business leaders and elected officials should learn from Tuesday’s results and keep working to come up with a plan voters will embrace.