Are Regional Transit Talks Doomed in 2018?

“Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be able to have a four-county transit plan,” says Megan Owens of Transit Riders United.

Rebecca Hanna/WDET

In the wake of Amazon’s rejection of Detroit as the site of its new headquarters complex, many transit advocates hoped it would be the slap in the face that forced regional leaders to get their act together and improve public transportation in the city.

The lack of comprehensive, coordinated transit throughout the region is widely regarded as a major reason for Amazon’s lack of interest in Detroit.

After the narrow rejection of a regional transit millage in 2016, local officials have been in talks to try again this year.

But those talks seemed to fall apart recently, with Oakland County Executive L Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel publicly criticizing the efforts. Does this doom efforts to improve regional transit in 2018? And will our leaders ever get on the same page about this issue?

Megan Owens, executive director of Transit Riders United, joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about the importance of a modern transit system.

She says the city needs it to remain competitive with other cities. 

“(Modern transit) is something that if we want Southeast Michigan to be competitive, if we want major companies like Amazon, if we want the top young talented people coming out of our universities to stay here, this is something we have to do.”

Owens says the issue isn’t necessarily the lack of demand from the people, but the refusal of leadership to put transit on the ballot.

“Forty-nine percent of people in Novi, Rochester and areas like that voted for the regional transit millage even though there was a lackluster campaign and the benefits weren’t well articulated. So it’s not that there isn’t any support. There is a fair amount of support in those communities but our political leaders are blocking it from moving forward.”

Owens says she isn’t optimistic that a four-county transit plan will be passed anytime soon, but that there is discussion of Wayne and Washtenaw counties taking action without Oakland and Macomb.

“Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be able to have a four-county transit plan, which was certainly everyone’s hope, but there has been discussion whether Wayne and Washtenaw counties move forward, at least as a start, and hopefully in another two, four, maybe six years, Oakland and Macomb will join on. But better to have some progress in some areas of the region than to sit and wait for another decade or more.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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