The Oakland Post

Letter to the editor: better public transit

Zachary Baker

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Dear editor,

I applaud Dean Vaglia’s article from Jan. 31 about the dire need for better transportation options for the Oakland University community. I am an alumnus of Oakland University and a transit advocate, currently sitting on the Regional Transit Authority’s Citizen Advisory Committee.

During my time at Oakland University from 2007-2013, I took the SMART bus a total of three times. I lived in Royal Oak with my parents and thought it would be interesting to try out. This was before SMART’s FAST service (an amazing service, if you ask me), so I was limited to SMART’s local Woodward service, the 450 and the 756. There’s a reason why I didn’t care to do more than three trips. SMART (and by extension DDOT) has been doing everything they can with the resources available to them, and in the past five years both have performed much better than the previous 20. Though there’s much still to be done. That’s what happens when communities are allowed to “opt-out” of service, the worst part about our transit funding.

SMART routes from Utica, Waterford or even Oxford would be an amazing sight to see. Taking the bus is not scary. It is safe. It is affordable. And yes, there are people riding them. There is freedom to be had in leaving your car at home. Admittedly, taking the bus is not for everyone. Obviously one might be better suited with a car on days where pre- or after-school employment or other appointments cannot be reached by transit. But I would guess for many, a park and ride situation would help so finding parking is never a burden.

But if students, faculty and staff wish to have transit options made available to them, they must demand it from their elected officials. They need to hear you! These communities are suspicious of transit because they think it is more money that’s going to Detroit. When we know it’s not. The 2016 transit millage would’ve had 85 percent of the millage raised in each county stay in that county. They are also smug about it. Many are aligned with L. Brooks Patterson, the career politician and Oakland County executive, whose anti-transit attitudes has cost this region dearly, in both economic development and the brain drain.

Many of you students, staff, and not-yet-tenured professors, too might leave for “greener pastures,” like Chicago, Minneapolis or New York City, or abroad where transit is an essential backbone of major metropolitan needs. For the past 25 years, metro Detroit politicians have been blind to the fact that regional transit is key for economic development and growth. If you are anti-transit, you are anti-economic growth.

But at Oakland University, we are growing. And therefore better transportation options must become available. The means expanding SMART’s service into Rochester Hills, Utica, and points north and west. It is a must. If the Rochesters wish to claim Oakland University as their own, they need to support the university completely and that includes transportation, not just in squabbles with Auburn Hills. At least they already “opt-in” to SMART.

Zachary Baker

Oakland University, ‘13

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Letter to the editor: better public transit”

  1. Michael Bedard on February 8th, 2019 12:43 AM

    Allow me to retort: I also am a Transit Advocate and I’ve applied to be on the advisory board as well.

    My statement would be that while 85% of what was raised in Oakland County would stay in Oakland County there are incredible issues with the plan as proposed. My number one issue would be that while Oakland County would be on the hook for funding what becomes the collateral for matching federal funds – those would entirely – 100% not go to Oakland County. Not a dime. And what does that difference look like? It looks like a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, not a bad idea at all. With the permanence of a rail line that has funding support you get an investment in surrounding areas and where that rail line connects to bus routes you manage to get a multiplier effect. The rail line is essentially the trunk of the tree that the bus line branches require to succeed and thrive.

    So Oakland County would get similar then that right? Nope. Oakland County would get, under the most recent plan, local bus going similar to its current speed of 9 MPH in the region. But it would connect to higher speed right? Nope. Not at all.

    And the reality is this – for a tax paid by property tax in most instances we can point to a gain in property valuation. So do we see that with a rail line? Yup. We see solid correlative gains in prop values. Do we see that with a bus line that doesn’t connect to true rapid transit? Nope. We see no to slight negative property valuation in those instances.

    Beyond that Oakland County would have a high proportion of tax payers that would put forward over $1bn over the course of the recent RTA plan proposal but those areas would receive, in total, about $100mm in services thru a nebulous poorly defined service called “hometown services”. In many instances this would be for services that are already funded by those areas. And the way the plan was structured – what would happen if a communities plan was supported by Oakland and Macomb county but voted down by the votes from Washtenaw/Wayne and the bonus vote for Detroit? Those dollars would then go to Washt/Wayne and Detroit and no longer stay within those communities – they would get not a dime for their investment.

    I’m a supporter of transit – but I’m a supporter of doing transit well – and the most recent RTA Plan was an absolute abysmal pile of trash for Oakland County and Macomb County. Lets see a plan that there can be no doubt delivers for Oakland County by utilizing true mass transit with BRT, Rail, etc. But lets not pretend Oakland County funding a rail line in Wayne/Washt while its saddled with local bus for 20 years won’t be used against Oakland County – it absolutely would pull economic activity away from those paying the most for the service – and that absolutely is an unacceptable capitulation for the county to enter into.

  2. Zachary Baker on February 9th, 2019 12:11 PM

    Michael,

    Obviously the 2016 plan was not perfect and really I wasn’t talking about that. I was merely saying that right now, many of the communities around Oakland University where students and staff travel in from have not opted-in to SMART. I was simply saying that if students don’t want to fight for parking and if OU wants to think less of its self as a car-only commuter college, these suburban communities, Rochester Hills, Oxford Township, Orion Township, Waterford, need to opt-in to SMART. And the only way is for those city and township councils to place it on their ballots to opt-in.

    However, the rest of your retort is again the same anti-regional sentiment felt in this region for decades. Transit plans are decades-long planning. Especially for rail, these projects are not built within 10 years, more like 30-50. DC’s metro is still growing since first being built in the 70s.

    The plan brought forward by Wayne County executive Warren Evans wasn’t the best presented, I’ll grant you that, but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything L. Brooks Patterson has delivered. Which is zero. Evans’ plan was not an “RTA-approved” plan, by the way. It was simply a try to get us to talk about transit more after the 2016 failure.

    The official 2016 plan included better service along mile roads AND Woodward BRT. It also included connecting downtown Rochester via Dequindre AND an M-59 route from end to almost end, I believe Selfridge and into Waterford. It expanded service in Oakland County. But nope, the powers that be at 1200 Telegraph did nothing to support it because they don’t care about this region, they only care about their exurban, strip mall needs.

    If you want rail, you need an agency that can deliver the funds and can negotiate strongly with the private rail companies that own most of the tracks in the Detroit area, like Norfolk Southern and CN.

  3. Michael Bedard on February 11th, 2019 4:45 PM

    From the top I’ll agree that those communities should absolutely look at opting into SMART for local bus service. Because SMART typically has done a pretty solid job with limited resources at delivering that. I totally agree that areas should look at opting in.

    The Evans plan was rallied around by the only two counties that are needed to make it the RTA plan – Wayne and Washt courtesy of the bonus vote for Detroit IE 5v4 gets that plan made the go to market plan. I will agree I’m disappointed that Patterson hasn’t offered a realistic plan. I find that very limiting but at a certain point when Oakland County really has no say in the planning process due to the amount of power wielded by Wayne/Washt there’s a certain onus where those counties that do have a say have an obligation to put something on the table that makes sense.

    To clarify the problem is that it isn’t just connecting things together with poor service, which is what the 2018 plan was. The 2016 plan had 1 BRT line which is a step forward – that was eliminated 100% by the plan in 2018.

    To vote in support of a plan – I need to see a plan that doesn’t make Oakland/Macomb second class toss off local bus vicitims for all transit solutions and barring that – simply put it shouldn’t see the light of day and so far as I’m concerned the most recent plan can be burned and Wayne/Washt can do it themselves if a local bus screw job economic suicide is all they can put in the plan.

    I’d agree if you want rail you need to talk with the main private companies as well – but that’s never even been something the RTA has said “lets do this” and to that point it falls to the RTA to craft and actual functional GOOD plan for the area. Not just accept what two counties say and… hilariously… when federal funding lowers the spend need for Mound Road… 100% invest it back into Ann Arbor/Ypsi. The entire plan was insulting and frankly rightly never moved forward.

    I’m a staunch proponent of transit as I said – but I will never support a plan that says local bus only can fill the need. It can’t – its a waste of time floating it and those that do should probably not float plans and an RTA that isn’t incompetent should probably not waste time with those plans either.

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Letter to the editor: better public transit