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Let’s Get Moving on Regional Transit

The RTA’s master plan will connect the region with jobs and opportunity 

By Richard DeVore

Southeast Michigan has the most disconnected transit system in the country.

That’s a bold statement, but if you don’t believe it, these numbers will definitely open your eyes:

  • More than 262,000 people commute to Oakland County every day for work, according to the American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau
  • Another 171,501 Oakland County residents travel to a different county for work every day
  • Ninety-two percent of jobs in Southeast Michigan require more than a 60-minute commute, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments
  • About 15 percent of households in Southeast Michigan do not have access to a car, according to the Brookings Institution

Hundreds of thousands of people across Southeast Michigan – Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties – work in one county, live in another and want to take advantage of health care, entertainment and cultural opportunities in yet another county. SMART, DDOT and AAATA have worked hard to meet the needs of the region, but they serve their own communities, leaving significant gaps in the region. In fact, buses in Southeast Michigan often stop at county lines and force riders to get off and wait for another provider.

This disconnected regional transit is hurting employers with jobs to fill, employees struggling to get to work, and seniors and people with disabilities who simply want to live independently. Our entire regional economy is weaker because our communities aren’t connected by regional transit.

As PNC regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan, I can tell you that businesses and corporations want to be located near high-quality regional transit.

In fact, many CEOs have pointed to transit as a top site-selection factor when looking to expand or move their businesses.

Reliable regional transit is about more than our workforce though. High-quality regional transit is attractive to businesses because it signals a robust regional economy with cooperation across the region’s markets. Transit is proven to support tremendous economic returns – an average of $4 for every $1 spent according to the American Public Transportation Association. And as a member of the Detroit Economic Club and the Detroit Regional Chamber, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Southeast Michigan’s economy is held back by the lack of reliable regional transit.

Here’s another number to consider: Southeast Michigan invests less in public transit ($69 per capita compared to $283 by Chicago and $177 by Cleveland) than every other metropolitan region in the country.

Neglecting regional transit is also a turnoff for young people – the next generation of business and civic leaders in Southeast Michigan. In polls and in practice, young people are showing that high-quality regional transit is not just a want, but also an expectation. We’re seeing young professionals leave Southeast Michigan to chase options in Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. — regional transit is part of the allure.

Southeast Michigan – including Detroit – is on the cusp of some of the most exciting economic growth in decades, but a lack of regional transit would ultimately hold us back. Connecting our communities will help ensure Southeast Michigan reaches its full potential.