Lots of transit talk over the past couple of weeks. Light rail moving forward on Woodward. Funding applied for alternatives analysis to extend higher level of transit on Woodward from 8 Mile to 15 Mile. The governor names a person to work on transit in Southeast Michigan. A panel of transit experts holds a meeting at Wayne State with the Federal Transit Administrator to give us advice on how to implement a transit plan, including light rail. Lots of positive energy. Well, I don’t want to be the one who rains on this parade, but there are huge issues that still need to be addressed if transit is to go forward.
As we move forward with plans to implement higher levels of transit – and we should move forward – we need to understand that the bus systems that will feed these higher level transit modes are failing. Why? Lack of funding from federal, state, and local sources is why. If we can’t fund the operation of the DDOT and SMART systems to adequate levels, how are we going to fund the operation of the light rail? Are we going to rob Peter (bus operation) to pay Paul (light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit)? Not a good choice in my opinion.
As encouraged as I am about the possibilities for higher level transit, I am just as concerned that no one appears to be working on the funding solutions needed to help ensure success. This is one reason I welcome Governor Snyder’s interest and involvement. The governance and funding issues could de-rail plans for higher level of transit and continue the inadequate levels of bus service.
We need a regional transit authority to take the lead and speak with one voice on transit issues. Now, we have the City of Detroit, the SMART Board, the DTC (People Mover), and there is discussion of yet another authority to run the Woodward Light Rail. Who coordinates this mess? Are all of these entities going to compete against each other for an ever shrinking pot of money?
An RTA will need to make those decisions and is key in being able to secure local funding to keep the system viable.
Let’s keep moving forward on the necessary planning activities for light rail, but don’t put your head in the sand and think we can have all these things with the inadequate amount of funding we have now. We can’t.