Detroit is the only major metropolitan area without a functional, integrated public transportation system. The city has its Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the suburbs have the Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART). Far from being smart, the two systems don’t coordinate services and SMART doesn’t even service all surburban communities. DDOT buses don’t venture out of the city and SMART buses follow DDOT buses to downtown, often stopping at the same stops. Case in point: it’s not uncommon to see 2, 3, or more buses in line along Woodward Avenue, a main thoroughfare to downtown.
While many are advocating regional transit, something which former Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) put years behind when he vetoed a bill as his last official act, it’s definitely an uphill battle. Today, Oakland County Commissioners decided to keep the local opt-out millage plan rather than adopt a county-wide millage. While some argue that recognizes local autonomy, it really doesn’t. It allows city and village councils to decide on behalf of their citizens rather than allowing citizens to vote.
The biggest problem is it stands as a large roadblock to developing a truly regional transit plan. Currently, Novi, which is home to many retail centers, does not participate in the SMART system. As a result, only people with cars can get to jobs there. If SMART buses went to the retail centers, the pool of available workers—and customers—would be much larger. That benefits both the city and the region.
And that’s the crux of metro Detroit’s problem. Until everyone can get beyond their parochial viewpoint and look beyond the end of their damn noses, the region is stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day that’s collapsing in on itself. We finally agreed to a regional authority for Cobo Hall, but we don’t really want regional transportation. Does that make sense? Not to me, but apparently we’re satisfied with the opt-out approach to transportation.
We cannot achieve a regional system when one of the region’s largest and most affluent counties does not support a county-wide system itself.
Sadly, even if the proposal had made it through the Oakland County Commissioners, County Executive L. Brooks Patterson likely would have vetoed the measure. So much for regionalism.