Over the last decade, a major issue in Detroit politics has been rapid population loss that has plagued the city. While it can be easy to look at the decreasing numbers as a sign of despair, I look at the population numbers in a positive light. According to the 2010 census, there are more than 700,000 residents in Detroit, making it the 18th largest city in America, by population. But the greater Detroit metropolitan area, which includes Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, has approximately 4,292,060 people, making it the 13th largest metropolitan area in America.
I’m not claiming that being the 12th largest metro area in America entitles us to be treated the same way as the greater New York City is treated. However, metro Detroit lacks countless features that allow other metropolitan areas to operate smoothly. Detroit has the worst public and regional transit system in America, due largely to the city and suburbs failing to work together on transit goals.
Because of America’s car-centric culture, the transit systems in any given American city lack the funding and infrastructure needed to compete with big European or Asian cities. However, Detroit’s transit system pales in comparison to other American cities. In Detroit, a trip from any given home in the city to the suburbs, where grocery stores, malls and low-income jobs are located, can take more than an hour in each direction. Additionally, bus service is unreliable, and many services don’t run late at night, meaning a trip to the store can leave one stranded in another city after dark.
Keeping all of this in mind, I decided to give the bus system a try. What I found was more than alarming. To get to my destination on the east side of Detroit, I had to take three buses, and the trip took more than an hour. Additionally, the buses were late, leaving me stranded in a neighborhood I didn’t know. If students at the University of Michigan had to ride Detroit Department of Transportation buses to class, they would certainly protest until the blue bus system returned.
The problems with Detroit’s transit system aren’t easily categorized into one specific problem. The city’s layout itself, spanning more than 140 square miles, is a contributing factor. It is so big that the combined land mass of San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan could fit into Detroit, and there would still be a sizeable amount of room left. Additionally, metro Detroit area transit providers are more than fractured. For example, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation buses — buses that serve the suburbs of Detroit — are prohibited from picking up riders inside Detroit city limits, often leaving riders stranded.
Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: Detroit’s transit system is a mess. Only 3 percent of jobs in the area can be reached within 60 minutes on public transit, and housing inequality prevents many people from living near their workplace. Bus service is infrequent, unreliable and ends too early in the night for service workers of all jobs. However, there is a solution: The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan has proposed a master plan that would overhaul Detroit’s transit system.
The main initiatives of the proposal include Bus Rapid Transit systems on the major streets in Detroit and an increase in 24-hour routes to serve more people in suburban areas. Additionally, there will be a commuter train service established between Ann Arbor and Detroit and a BRT bus will run along Washtenaw Avenue connecting downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti.
The benefits of the proposal are sweeping and will help many people in metro Detroit have better access to their jobs and services across southeastern Michigan. However, the proposal will not go forward without an approval from voters on Nov. 8. This proposal will levy a tax of 1.2 mills — $1.20 per $1000 of property value — on all residents of Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties to finance the plan. This plan is crucial to the development of the region, and without it, the economic growth of the region will not happen.
Many University students are registered to vote in Ann Arbor, and many are also registered to vote in their hometowns in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. A small increase in property taxes isn’t a huge burden to many homeowners in southeastern Michigan, but it can have a world of a difference for Detroit residents and any of us visiting Detroit. Detroit’s transit woes are great, but this election, suburban voters need to change the status quo.
Kevin Sweitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.