Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Oakland County has opportunity to jump-start mass transit | Opinion

Oakland County has opportunity to jump-start mass transit | Opinion

April 7, 2022
Detroit Free Press 
Apr. 7, 2022
Megan Owens  

If you recognize that the Detroit region needs more and better public transit to thrive, Oakland County is the place to focus this year. Thanks to major leadership changes shortly before COVID hit, Oakland County has the potential this summer to enable the biggest transit expansion southeast Michigan’s seen in decades.

Yes, the Detroit region still needs a major, region-wide dedicated funding measure. Our region invests one-third per capita of what most major metro regions invest in our public transit system, and it shows in the limited breadth, speed, and frequency of service our transit agencies provide.

Until Macomb leaders get behind a major new transit investment or the state Legislature amends the legislation that requires unanimous four-county support for the Regional Transit Authority to place anything on the ballot, that major region-wide transit funding is stalled.

But that doesn’t mean transit progress is stalled.

Oakland’s opportunity

With a single vote, the Oakland County Commission can eliminate one of the biggest barriers to effective transit – the opt-out system that results in an awkward patchwork transit system that leaves people walking miles just to reach a job. They can place transit funding on the countywide ballot – as Macomb County has – and let the voters decide.

What types of services could countywide transit provide?

SMART could expand bus routes to job centers and important destinations like Twelve Oaks Mall, Oakland University, Ascension Providence Hospitals in Rochester and Novi, and many of the County’s wonderful parks. SMART could also expand its popular new Flex service, providing its on-demand Uber-Pool-type service to more communities.

Vital local transit providers like the North Oakland and West Oakland Public Transit Authorities and the Older Persons Commission would finally have sufficient funding to provide more rides over more hours to better serve the seniors and people with disabilities in their communities, and maybe expand service to other residents.

Communities like Rochester, Lake Orion, Oxford, Clarkston, Waterford, Commerce, and Walled Lake could be reliably connected to each other and to the rest of the region.

What would it mean for the people of Oakland County to go all-in for transit?

All-in for transit means no senior would ever feel stranded in their own home, a burden to their family just because they can’t drive.

All-in for transit means a bigger pool of potential workers for many employers, and guarantees that employees don’t have to stop working if their car stops working.

All-in for transit means more choices for drivers sick of being held hostage by fluctuating gas prices and construction closures.

Giving drivers options

While most of us do drive, an effective public transit system provides both a lifeline for people who can’t drive and a choice for people sick of driving. And as a community, we all depend on people who depend on transit.

Yes, Macomb County remains essential. SMART and its supporters need to remind Macomb County voters about the value of public transit to ensure the millage is renewed with strong support this year.

And yes, Wayne and Washtenaw Counties still need to address holes in their transit systems and figure out ways to ensure no senior in their communities are left stranded when they don’t drive.

And yes, Detroit still needs to boost investment in its transit system, paying whatever it takes to hire and keep enough drivers to provide the reliable transit Detroiters need.

But the region’s biggest opportunity to expand transit lies in the hands of the Oakland County Commission and Oakland County voters this year.

It’s time for Oakland County to go all-in for transit.

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