Max Lubell: Why passing the RTA plan is a must

Sunday, November 6, 2016 - 4:07pm

With the ability to boost the regional economy, create major conveniences and improve the region’s transportation infrastructure, expansion of the Regional Transit Authority is arguably the most important piece of local legislation on the ballot in Southeast Michigan. The case for regional transit has a plethora of no-cost arguments that make it an absolute necessity to vote yes on the approval of the RTA master plan.

The Regional Transit Authority master plan, if approved, will expand bus transit lines, create an affordable airport express service, increase senior citizen paratransit services and create a rail line connecting Ann Arbor and Detroit, while other types of transit will connect these two cities to Dearborn, Wayne and Ypsilanti. The transit plan will create seamless travel between counties and suburbs in the region, many of which are currently unconnected by any means of public transit.

The lack of regional transit in the status quo creates a massive barrier to regional employment opportunities. It leaves many without a means of transporting to major suburban job centers. Today Southeast Michiganders live farther away from employment opportunities than before the collapse of the auto industry. Lack of regional transit in Southeast Michigan has a direct effect on these barriers and the lack of employment opportunities. Voting yes on the RTA's master plan can change that, creating transit options that link these employment centers with potential employees. This plan, when implemented, will be incredibly useful for business owners, who will gain a reliable source of employment that pulls from an increased population of people who have access to reliable transportation to and from work.

What's more, the expanded transportation system will also contribute to bringing in new types of employment. Successful mass transit will attract young and educated workers to the region. Empirically, cities with extensive public transportation become more attractive to educated millennials, thus importing a productive sector for the workforce. Connecting suburban areas, along with more urban centers such as Detroit and Ann Arbor, can create this effect for the region. The increase in employment options will have a critical impact on the local economy.

Increased public transportation will directly increase employment options, which in turn grows the regional economy. The major critics of the transit authority come from those opposed to the increased tax that comes with it. The plan would create a 1.2-mill tax that will cost the average household $95 per year. For some in the Macomb and Oakland county areas, the tax increase is perceived as unrewarding, as the transit opportunities will not directly impact them. I believe these arguments are nonsensical and unfounded.

The regional economy boost, caused by the increase in employment, would justify the tax increase no matter where one lives in the region. For every dollar invested into the transit system there will be a $4 return on investment. Such logic makes the tax increase a no-cost option for the region.

The major critiques of the RTA master plan all seem to come from the same line of reasoning: Individuals who will not be connected to or will not use public transit believe regional transit will not be beneficial for them. There are several reasons this line of reasoning is unfounded. The economic boost makes the proposed RTA master plan beneficial to everyone, even in counties not directly connected to the transit lines. The millage will also be advantageous for business owners, even if they do not personally use public transportation — reliable transportation is often a requirement for employment, so the expanded transit options will make more people employable.

Dispelling the economic arguments, public transportation is also a major convenience. Imagine having a rail line to take you to the airport or major city centers without hassle. Perhaps car culture is so ingrained in the common American that the idea of using public transit seems too far-fetched. If so, then that is the exact reason we need public transit: to eliminate the car culture mentality that makes so many regions inaccessible for citizens without reliable access to a motor vehicle.   

The boost to the local economy makes the proposed RTA master plan a sensible and no-cost option. Voters should consider not only the logical benefits to the transit authority's master plan, but also the way we want our region to look. Transportation infrastructure is crumbling throughout the nation. Michigan can be seen as a staple child for the country’s transportation problems, and our public transit is an excellent example of that. 

Do we want our region to be one with a crumbling public transit system, where demand for public transportation to employment sectors drastically outweighs the supply of transit options? Do we want to live in a region where residents have to remain unemployed simply because they don’t have a way to get to work? Do we want to live in a region where we force a resident to walk 21 miles every day traveling to their job and back home? Well, that is the region we live in now, but voting yes on the proposed Regional Transit Authority master plan would provide the opportunity to change that and improve our region for everyone.

Max Lubell can be reached at mlubell@umich.edu.