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