Detroit’s new Regional Transit Authority should become a model for how TARTA is operated in the future.
Southeastern Michigan voters could approve a ballot measure this fall that would give the metro Detroit area a public transit overhaul that could substantially contribute to the city’s comeback.
Advocates are promoting a new 1.5-mill, 20-year tax to fund the Regional Transit Authority proposal for Detroit, as well as surrounding Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties. It would feature a commuter rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit, expanded traditional bus routes, and upgraded fare-card technology. The new proposal also would call for transit in the outer suburbs to be designed by those communities for their residents.
Voters in southeastern Michigan narrowly rejected a similar, if less ambitious regional-transit proposal in 2016. Many observers blamed the defeat on a lack of buy-in from some suburban areas that believed they were not well served by public transit.
Many in the Toledo area with no interest in hitching a ride on the mostly empty TARTA buses that rattle along city streets can relate to that. Like Detroit, Toledo is in need of a public transit transformation and Detroit’s revised plan could be a template for TARTA’s reinvention.
It has been eight months since TARTA’s plan to change its funding stream from a property-tax levy to a sales tax was upended when Sylvania Township balked at the plan.
Transit officials responded by saying they would revise the plan and hoped to get a levy on the ballot this year. The new plan, TARTA General Manager James Gee said, would be “a community-driven strategic plan” aimed at persuading the suburban skeptics.
Since then, however, TARTA has been mostly quiet and the agency’s outdated system is no closer to a revamp that will help Toledo revitalize.
Detroit’s new Regional Transit Authority scheme maximizes new technology, a variety of types of vehicles, and a truly regional approach to designing and managing transit.
Toledo needs the same. If TARTA executives are still planning a “community-driven strategic plan,” they might start by surveying the leaders from the suburbs that have become frustrated with funding a transit system that doesn’t fit their residents’ needs.
A new TARTA, like its neighboring transit agency in Michigan, would focus on efficiently moving everyone around a broad region, not just ferrying low-income urban residents with no other transportation to work and school.
Detroit’s new plan was drafted in part with help from the Kresge Foundation, whose president said that the Detroit region’s “economic competitiveness and health” depended on remaking public transportation into an asset that helps make the city attractive to new residents and businesses.
Toledo’s transit dilemma is no less urgent, and no less important than the issue in Detroit. So, where is TARTA’s new roadmap?
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