Detroit, Michigan has not had the best luck when it comes to earning a positive reputation around the country. The once-booming city has become infamous for its declining population and high crime rate, and now, its transit system is being called out.
At the end of World War II, Detroit was home to the largest municipally owned streetcar system in the United States. State of Michigan records show that between regional streetcars, buses, and commuter rails, Detroit had an annual ridership of 490 million. Today’s Detroit tells a much different story as the annual ridership on urban and suburban transit systems is now 36 million. Until the QLINE opens up in the downtown area, Detroit stands as the largest American metropolis without a surface rail transit, according to Slate. For perspective, the entire city of Detroit has lower weekday bus ridership than two of the busiest individual bus routes in New York City.
As Slate’s Henry Grabar explains, it’s not for a lack of need that the transit system has failed so miserably in the Motor City. Detroit, known for its autocentric economy, ranks 8th nationally in its percentage for car-less households. There are approximately 66,000 Detroit residents that are car-less, and many of them can’t find a way to get to work, or get anywhere else for that matter. Studies have shown that a lack of transit access can be linked to unemployment, low income, and low economic mobility. The city spends $69 per capita on transit each year (Atlanta spends $119 per capita, Cleveland $177, and Seattle $471).
A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Last week, the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) unveiled a $4.6 billion plan to connect Detroit, its suburbs, the Wayne County Airport, and nearby Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti into one large network. Following a public review period in June and a RTA board review next month, the proposal will be placed on the ballot for a vote this November across four counties in Southeast Michigan.
“If it passes, the plan would double per capita transit funding in the region- and represent a rare instance of cooperation in the vitriolic political history of mostly black Detroit and its largely white suburbs. Its approval would signify popular recognition that Detroit and its surrounding counties share a common interest. And it would make it a whole lot easier to get around without a car,” Grabar wrote.
It is still too early to tell if this type of proposal has a chance to pass come Election Day, but many of its supporters are feeling optimistic. The divide between Detroit and the suburbs still remains, but it does not run as deep as it once did. Millage for SMART bus service is consistently renewed by suburban voters, and the idea of transit connecting the counties is now more favorable to residents of Macomb and Oakland county. “The fundamental difference between now and even five years ago is that Detroit is rapidly becoming a city that the region can be proud and is proud of,” Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, explained.
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