For decades, metro Detroit has been under served by a mass transit system not worthy of the term. In 1922, Detroit had the largest municipally-owned transit system in the nation, but today the People Mover is a sad excuse for public transportation. Although Detroit has one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, 20 other metro areas spend more on public transportation and have more complete service.
Local leaders last century opted against subways, so today the area is left with two minor bus systems, run by the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, not really a viable option for such a large city.
However, there is support brewing for a more developed transit system, called SpeedLink. It would be the bus equivalent of a light rail system, uniting the efforts of DDT and SMART and better linking Detroit and its suburbs. The buses would be given their own lanes in some places, and would have the ability to preempt traffic lights. The plan, however, does not include provisions for connections to other urban centers, including Ann Arbor.
There are many benefits to implementing such public transportation proposals, whether they be regional links or the basic SpeedLink plan. For students in Ann Arbor, a link to Detroit would facilitate tasks such as going to the airport for out-of-towners, while creating a quick, cheap and reliable option for local students to visit home.
University students are not the only beneficiaries to this new system. Nearly 200,000 households in the area do not have access to cars an efficient public transportation system would open many opportunities for them. Many of these people are concentrated in Detroit and with most jobs no longer located in the city (250,000 city jobs as opposed to 1.41 million in suburbs), the Detroit metropolitan area”s demand for labor can tap into the large supply.
Then there is the undeniable benefit of reducing traffic on the notorious Michigan roads. Riding the buses would be at least marginally less mind-numbing than traffic jams and traffic might clear up as more people choose a public commute.
Objections include higher taxes and a fear of a crime influx into suburbs. A slight increase in taxes will prove to be an investment in money saved from gas and road-repair expenses later on. The second concern often derives from a fear of crime resulting from minority presence in the suburbs. While this clearly is not an argument, southeast Michigan remains one of the most segregated areas in the nation and would benefit from the integration that SpeedLink or other regional links might offer.
In any case, southeast Michigan is in need of better public transportation and for a real revival of Detroit it is important the metropolitan area become more culturally and economically connected two of the many benefits of a public transportation system.