In an ironic twist of fate, Southeast Michigan’s regional bus system is nicknamed SMART (Southeast Michigan Regional Transit). Given the ability of communities in the region to opt-out of participation, the name certainly is an oxymoron to the DUMB (Detroit Unworkable Metro Bus) reality that faces residents on the ground.
This reality came to the forefront back in February when Mr. James Robertson’s staggering daily round-trip commute on foot became a national news story. Hopefully, opt-out communities continue to feel the heat over their short-sighted decision to either not participate in SMART or operate a separate system. What these communities do not seem to realize is that they are hurting themselves and their residents by not approaching transit in a unified manner. Why you might ask? Aside from the public ridicule and shame, here are a few reasons:
* More vehicles are forced onto the road network that might not otherwise be there if seamless transit options were made available for commuting or shopping purposes. That means:
- More congestion/gridlock;
- More wear and tear on the roadways;
- More accidents;
- Longer commuting times;
- More incidents of road rage;
- Increased air pollution;
- Greater absenteeism or tardiness;
- More money needed for policing; and
- More money needed for road improvements/repairs.
* Larger proportions of family incomes going to transportation costs instead of towards housing, health care, education, or shopping. This dampens economic vitality.
* Genuine concerns over fairness and social equity. A variety of viable transportation options should be provided to serve the entire population, not just those who can afford automobile or those commuting to/from downtown. Otherwise, entire segments of the population are left with few choices.
At this week’s Michigan Association of Planning’s Spring Institute, an astounding factoid was revealed – approximately 2/3’s of all jobs in the United States are not served by high-frequency transit. Seriously? That means the working poor, the disabled, the young, working seniors, and the disadvantaged are effectively shut out from 2/3 of all job opportunities in the United States…unless they subject themselves to ridiculous commutes like Mr. Robertson. Is that really fair…equitable…or humane?
These issues have real and tangible economic consequences. Both businesses and people are hesitant to locate in regions that beset with division or economic malaise. For Metro Detroit to continue its recovery and compete more effectively on the global stage, such economic and social inequities must be resolved…and pronto.
For an in-depth analysis of the public transit fiasco in Southeast Michigan please check out these links to Metro Times: