Emerging from the continued stagnation of the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority legislation are all the predictable ramifications of not having a unified regional transportation system in the greater Detroit area. Washtenaw County is currently witnessing the negative side effects of ongoing bickering by local politicians in the face of a recession. With funds as scarce as they are, it should come as little surprise that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is canceling bus routes to Dexter and Saline.
It is, however, an utter shame. The benefits of public transportation are widely known. The loss of these routes will do much more than just clog our highways, raise our gas prices and further dirty our air. There are people whose livelihoods depend on affordable transportation. There are homeless families who must use the bus to get to the Alpha House shelter in Dexter. There are even those with developmental disabilities who rely on public transportation to lead healthy, independent lives.
While it would be simple to say “the AATA should not cancel these routes,” the scenario is a little bit more complicated; it is not entirely the decision of the AATA. The funding for public transportation in Washtenaw County is divided three ways, with most of the money coming from local communities. Currently, individual cities and townships must pay money from their own treasuries for routes in their area. While this seems a small penance for the sake of their citizens who make up the rest of the funding through transportation fares and tax-dollars spent in the form of state and federal grants, local communities have begun to withhold the funds.
Scio Township stopped a few years ago, but the West Washtenaw Business Association continued to pay the subsidy. That is, until the AATA doubled the rate to $4,000 a year. The AATA has demonstrated its benevolence and care for the community by continuing to run the routes for almost a whole year without full funding. There is a small private bus system in Chelsea that will attempt to transport those who will be stranded in Dexter, but it does not offer a permanent solution.
Saline, on the other hand, decided not to pay for public transportation because of low ridership. Despite efforts to promote the service, there is still only an average of three passengers per bus, instead of the target number of fifteen; however, passenger fares only make up 17 percent of the entire funding. Even such a small number of AATA patrons makes the service worthwhile to the community. It is counterproductive to force unemployment on those who cannot afford individual transportation by eliminating bus routes.
In the face of cross accusations from the AATA and various communities and businesses throughout Washtenaw County, the only viable solution can possibly come through cooperation from all involved parties. Instead of hunting down funds from individual cities and paying increased subsidies whenever the need arises, a more unified, centralized system could relieve tensions and allow for more consistency. In a word, what is needed is DARTA. There is a federal grant, paid for by local residents’ taxes, which could be paying for bus routes to Saline and Dexter right now, but instead is going to Boston because the politicians in Lansing cannot see the importance of a viable public transportation system.
Yes, the AATA should not cancel the routes, but, in the long run, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the elected representatives. The people of the greater Detroit area need DARTA, and regional cooperation is the only viable solution to this problem.