Vote yes to support SMART bus system

The Detroit News
Riders enter a SMART bus at the Royal Oak Transit Center in Royal Oak.

Discussions over regional transit have caused major divides in Metro Detroit this year. Especially since plans for putting another regional transit tax on the November ballot are kaput, residents need some form of reliable mass transportation. We recommend voting YES on the SMART millage proposal Aug. 7.

Voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties will all have the proposal on their primary ballots. All of Macomb and the communities that participate in Oakland and Wayne will vote on it. 

While Oakland and Macomb county leaders balked at the latest $5.4 billion Regional Transit Authority plan supported by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, they have maintained strong support for the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation ballot measure.

The SMART millage up before voters would raise to 1.0 the current millage of .9863 mills through 2021. A resident who owns a $200,000 home would pay $100 annually if the measure passes. Voters last approved a tax increase to SMART in 2014, when they nearly doubled the tax to 1 mill from .59 mills. The new proposal would bring in around $71 million the first year. 

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel have advocated for SMART and raised concerns this spring that voters may confuse the SMART proposal for the RTA measure that supporters had hoped to place on the fall ballot. Voters narrowly defeated the last RTA proposal in November 2016.

We have encouraged regional leaders to turn to fine tuning the RTA plan for 2020.

In the meantime, residents in the Metro Detroit must rely on the suburban SMART system, and there is room for improvement in how that system operates and coordinates with the Detroit Department of Transportation. The two systems should work together to explore ways to help residents get to jobs and back home as efficiently as possible.

For instance, the new SMART FAST buses do what the name suggests: They offer limited stop service to the suburbs along the main thoroughfares of Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues.

The region has consistently supported SMART. As Patterson said in May: “They tax themselves to support SMART because it is reliable and people know it’s there for them.”

Yet not everyone is thrilled with the SMART tax. Leon Drolet, a Macomb County commissioner, is helping spearhead a campaign called “Nothing Smart About SMART,” funded by the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance.

The group recommends ending the SMART property tax and instead putting money toward vouchers for more direct transportation such as Uber and Lyft. 

A shortage of public transportation hurts the competitiveness of this region. For now, SMART is the only game in town. Voters should support the millage request.