Wednesday, August 31, 2016

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Letters to the Editor

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 2:51 PM

Michael Jackman's editorial on the RTA got a few spirited responses. Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United (DetroitTransit.org) writes us:

I may never run as fast as Usain Bolt. Based on Michael Jackman's anti-RTA logic, that means I shouldn't bother getting up off the couch.

The Regional Transit Authority's plan for expanding our region's transit is a great start, one that our region badly needs. Right now, tens of thousands of people struggle every day to get to work, or are left completely without options if they cannot drive. SEMCOG found that a whopping 92 percent of jobs in southeast Michigan cannot be reached within 60 minutes using existing transit. That's a massive problem that we must tackle now.

The RTA's plan is our best opportunity to reliably connect Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. The plan builds on and expands our region's transit with regional rail, airport express services, express buses, increased paratransit services, and, yes, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

This BRT will be unlike anything southeast Michigan has ever seen. While Jackman is right to worry about BRT-creep, the RTA has committed that the vast majority of our region's BRT will travel in dedicated lanes with signal priority, level-boarding, and pre-paid ticketing. These features will make it faster and more reliable than normal buses. High frequency means transit will be there when riders want it instead of riders having to schedule their lives around the bus.

Will people ride it? Just look to Cleveland, where the "HealthLine" BRT spurred a 60 percent increase in ridership in its first three years.

Negativity from those who want it all is as divisive as negativity from those who prefer the status quo. We need solutions that work, and we need them now. This plan will get people where they need to go: workers to jobs, students to school, seniors to doctors' appointments or to visit friends, and families to weekend entertainment.

Southeast Michigan will never have the subways of New York, just as I'll never be as fast as Usain Bolt. But this plan will finally connect our communities with reliable regional transit. That's why you should vote yes for regional transit this November.

Joel Batterman, coordinator of Detroit's Motor City Freedom Riders (motorcityfreedomriders.org) writes:

In his blog post of Aug. 23, Michael Jackman claims to love mass transit. Then he says he's voting "no" on the Regional Transit Authority tax proposal this November, because what he actually loves are trains, not buses, and the RTA plan is too heavy on the latter.

That's foolishness of the first order. And it's rooted in an irrational prejudice against buses that has everything to do with race and class, not the vehicles themselves.

People want transit that's frequent, fast, and reliable. When you provide that service, it'll be used by rich and poor alike, whether it's buses or trains. Just look at Ann Arbor's network of frequent bus routes, or the handful of SMART express buses that deliver suburban office workers to downtown Detroit.

Jackman is right that the RTA plan reflects the constraints of our region's current political environment, including the likes of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Yet his proposed solution, writing letters to legislators in Lansing, is an exercise in magical thinking

Is the RTA plan an end-all be-all? Of course not. But if approved by voters this November, the RTA plan would be a gigantic step forward. It'd dramatically enhance bus service in Detroit and the suburbs, create new bus rapid transit lines, and, yes, re-establish regional rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor. That would make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and go a long way toward building the bigger constituency for transit we need to win more improvements in the future.

The choice we face in November isn't between buses and trains. It's between a massive investment in better transit, and an intolerable status quo. If you want to move our region forward, that shouldn't be a tough decision.

Editor's note: Larry Gabriel's weekly column returns next week.

Correction: A photo of musician Mahogany Jones in last week's issue should have been credited to Shante Fagans.

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