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The Motor City? How About the Motor Region

The Detroit Free Press recently published an article summarizing the ongoing financial and jurisdictional debate surrounding regional mass transit.  Metropolitan Detroit primarily relies on two major transit agencies—DDOT and SMART—to offer commuting and general mobility to the region’s 4.4 million residents. The major problem is that the dual agencies create higher costs for both, leading to less service and lower quality for riders, plus the potential to miss out on federal funding opportunities.

Even more troubling is the inconsistent jurisdictional buy-in for the suburban SMART system. The Free Press included an interactive service area map showing the 53 suburban communities that don’t support the transit agency. This type of non-collaboration does more than just complicate routing and cost structures.  In the case of suburban Detroit, it means that 52 percent of residents don’t have access to transit service of any kind.

And what about the suburban riders who can board a bus?  We learned first-hand about the difficult commuting situation for them through research we released in May.  Ponsella Hardaway, executive director for Detroit non-profit MOSES, told attendees at our transit accessibility event about a worker that needed to travel well over 90 minutes to reach a job, including transfers.  A brutal trip, for sure, and one made worse by disaggregated decision-making.

Detroit is doing many great things on the road to economic recovery.  One thing they need to add to that list is a regional approach to mass transit.  Based on our work, Detroit currently ranks 73 out of 100 metropolitan areas when it comes to linking workers to potential jobs.  Regional transit governance would be a major step toward improving that standing.