Southeast Michigan’s transit woes and the political bickering surrounding them are the stuff of legend.
Those transit problems will be among the big topics of conversation next week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.
To launch WDET’s new segment MichMash, WDET’s Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth talk about the status of transit talks and why the Mackinac conference might provide an opportunity to break the impasse.
Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.
Here are some of the things you should know about transit talks in Michigan.
You may have a chance to vote to raise taxes for better transit in November…
…But also maybe not.
The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA) hopes to put a measure on the ballot in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties. It’s a somewhat scaled back vision for regional transit compared to the measure voters narrowly rejected in 2016.
But leaders in Oakland and Macomb counties are already criticizing the plan — to put it mildly — and the RTA itself. Those leaders have the ability to torpedo any effort to put the plan on the ballot.
Lawmakers in Lansing are also debating this issue
A bill at the state Capitol would allow communities in the region to opt out of any RTA millage.
Critics of the bill say the whole notion of opting out undermines the entire concept of regional transit.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond), echos the sentiments we hear a lot from opponents of regional transit in Southeast Michigan — that people shouldn’t have to pay for something they won’t use.
“You could drive the distance downtown (Detroit) and back, and that’s the distance for one of my residents to get to a bus route,” Yaroch recently told a House committee.
The issue will be a big topic at the Mackinac Policy Conference next week
The group that organizes the conference — the Detroit Regional Chamber — has a big interest in improving mobility of people throughout the region. It represents businesses that need to get workers from home to their jobs, and those businesses want to be in a region that is attracting young, talented workers.
The Chamber released this statement on the new plan:
“The Chamber has been a longstanding proponent of regional transit. The proposal put forth by (Wayne) County Executive (Warren) Evans is an amicable, more robust solution, to move our region forward and attract the jobs and talent needed to compete globally. The Chamber supports approving the plan to let the voters decide on the November ballot.”
Many of the business leaders and politicians who attend the event are also involved in these conversations.
The one big name at the center of this issue missing from the conference this year is Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. This could make getting a deal done on transit on Mackinac difficult. Patterson has spoken out forcefully against the transit plan and the RTA itself.
But big deals do get hammered out during this conference on occasion
Think about this scenario — you have most of the biggest business and political leaders in Michigan all on a tiny little island in Northern Michigan with no cars. They can’t escape each other. And they’re all going to the same events centered around big policy goals.
Not to mention the fact that many are enjoying some adult beverages together.
This can be, sometimes, a recipe for disaster.
But it has also resulted in some big deals being made. That includes major progress on Detroit’s Grand Bargain deal which helped the city emerge from bankruptcy. Early in Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure, it was the venue that helped him push forward his vision for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, ON.
Next week, we’ll find out if Metro Detroit’s transit woes could be addressed on an island 250 miles away with no cars — where the only transit to speak of are horse carriages and bicycles.
WDET’s Mackinac Policy Conference coverage is sponsored by The Henry Ford.