#MPC15: Panel Outlines Urgency of Regional Transit Solutions for Detroit Area

The story of Detroit resident James Robertson captured the nation’s attention earlier this year.

To get to his factory job, Robertson would take a bus and walk 21 miles round-trip. He made this epic trek every day, through the worst weather imaginable.

As much as Robertson was lauded for his work ethic, speakers at a panel discussion on regional transit held last week at the Mackinac Policy Conference say improvements need to be made so that his story isn’t the norm.

“We’ve really got to get something done here,” said Michael Ford, CEO of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan. The RTA was formed to plan and coordinate public transportation initiatives in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties.

As Detroit and surrounding communities work to build better transit connections, a transportation leader in West Michigan said the region is poised to get the job done.

“I’m thinking this is the best time for Detroit. The M-1 rail is going to be a game changer,” said Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, the Grand Rapids-area transit authority. The 3.3-mile light rail line will go from downtown Detroit to Midtown is expected to be complete around the end of 2016.

Varga has overseen four successful transit millage campaigns during his tenure and recently spearheaded the Silver Line, Michigan’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

“You have to be dogged. You have to keep at it,” Varga said.

Carlos Monje, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Transportation, said behind housing, transportation is often the second most costly item when it comes to household budgets. He said good, working transit is a lifeline for lower-income families.

Ford agreed, noting that people lose jobs due to a lack of reliable transportation, something that’s unacceptable as Detroit continues to make an economic recovery.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Ford said.

Community listening sessions are scheduled for public input. Visit RTAMichigan.org for upcoming events. A final master transit plan is expected in December of this year and will include coordination with current transit providers such as Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, Detroit Department of Transportation, Detroit Transportation Corporation, M-1 Rail, and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was the Diamond sponsor of this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference. For 76 years, we’ve been based in Detroit and remain committed to a vibrant core city and region, which includes our financial contribution to the M-1 Rail partnership and support of regional transportation solutions.

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Photo credit: Paul Bica

 

 

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