For several decades, leaders in the Detroit metropolitan area have debated and demurred about creating a Regional Transit Authority imbued with the power to own and operate a regional rapid transit system for commuters, to coordinate service between existing bus systems (SMART and DDOT), and to integrate all forms of public transportation with the region into a cohesive, efficient whole. The Detroit metropolitan area is the only major metropolitan area in America that does not have a safe, reliable and efficient rapid system.
Under the leadership of Governor Rick Snyder, elected officials from southeast Michigan’s local governments and legislative leaders across the state have crafted a strategy to launch a new Regional Transit Authority for metro Detroit.
In January, bills were introduced in the state House and Senate to create the new governance model.
HB 5314 (Hobbs): Allows dedicated lanes for transit on state roads
Outline of the Plan
- Establish by statute, a new Regional Transit Authority for Southeast Michigan that initially includes Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw Counties, and the city of Detroit with incentives for contiguous counties like Washtenaw and St. Clair to participate as well.
- Governance: Counties form the fundamental building block for regionalism. Each participating county appoints 2 members of the authority board, and the City of Detroit gets 1 appointment. One of Wayne County’s two appointments must be from Detroit. Each member unit has a vote, but no party has a veto; board members are “professionals” instructed to act in the interest of regional transit and given fixed terms to insulate them from direct political control. The Governor’s appointee will serve ex-officio, without vote, and chair the regional transit authority. Contiguous counties may petition the authority to join and will receive board membership once their electors approve the same financing mechanism as other authority members.
- Finance: The main RTA bill provides two funding options, or a combination thereof: A special assessment property tax, and a regional motor vehicle registration fee of up to $1.20/$1,000 of vehicle value. Both options would require approval by a majority of the electors living in the entire transit region.
- The new RTA would become the “designated recipient” of all state and federal capital and operating funds. The authority could withhold funds from existing bus systems in order to leverage coordination of routes, schedules, stops, etc. for enhanced efficiency and performance.
- Objectives for the RTA:
- Update and adopt the existing (December, 2008) Comprehensive Regional Transportation Plan for Southeast Michigan;
- Coordinate existing bus service providers in the region (e.g., routes, schedules, fares, etc.);
- Prepare a financing proposal for the RTA in preparation for a public vote – people must know what they are buying before they are asked to pay for it;
- Work with the Federal Transit Administration to establish a regional rapid transit system (bus rapid transit) for commuters using dedicated lanes, GPS positioning, and traffic light control capability;
- Establish performance criteria for each element of the transit system; post progress publicly on a “dashboard;” allow financial leverage to reward high performance;
- Incorporate best technology to enhance efficiency and revenues (e.g., digital advertising) and to provide riders with a safe, reliable, comfortable experience.