Union seeks to halt regional transit bid

The union wants a Detroit-centric bus system because it wants to keep the maximum amount of transportation dollars in the city, and thus in pockets of its members. That’s understandable. But it doesn’t foster an effective regional transit system, something that Metro Detroit has too long lived without.

A few weeks ago, suburban leaders were roundly chastised for impeding regional cooperation by delaying approval for placing a millage on the November ballot to fund a new Regional Transit Authority. Some even suggested those Oakland and Macomb officials might be motivated by racial preferences.

A deal was eventually worked out that addressed the suburban concerns, and voters in southeast Michigan will get to vote on the 1.2 mill tax levy this fall.

But now look who’s raising an objection to the RTA — a labor union contends that spending significant money on bus service in the suburbs is discriminatory because the suburbs are largely white, and white people don’t ride buses, according to the complaint by the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Among other things, the union says funds to create new service lines to serve the suburbs are a waste of money that could be spent improving transportation service for the poor and car-less in Detroit.

“This amounts to the creation of unneeded service to appeal to majority white voters who do not even use public transportation, at the expense of the actual ridership, which is heavily minority and depends on bus service in their daily lives,” the complaint to the RTA reads.

There is no denying that poor and minority Detroiters make up the bulk of current bus riders in Metro Detroit.

But the goal of the RTA is not simply to improve service for current users, although if the plan is carried out as designed, it should. The objective is to make buses a viable option for all commuters, regardless of income and whether they own a vehicle.

Metro Detroit’s roadways are becoming too congested. Parking spaces in downtown Detroit are becoming a rarity. And a new generation of workers is demanding effective mass transit as a condition of living and working in the region.

So RTA was created to meet those demands and to move people out of individual vehicles and into buses.

The union is right that the current proposal is designed in part to appeal to suburban voters. Those residents have to see a benefit to themselves and their communities before they will take on another big transit tax — they already pay a millage to support the SMART bus system.

The RTA funding formula recognizes the disparate needs of city and suburban residents. That’s why more than half of all regional transit funds, including those raised by the new millage, will be spent in Detroit, whose population makes up under 20 percent of the region’s total.

As the RTA board notes, Detroit’s return on its transit tax dollars over the next 20 years will be 371.4 percent, and when federal and state grants are included, 820 percent. That’s not bad.

Labor has consistently battled regional transit, first fighting SMART’s entry into Detroit in the 1990s, and then successfully suing a decade later to kill the second version of the Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority.

Bus routes go both ways. Coaches that bring suburban riders into the city will also carry Detroit riders to jobs, shopping and services in the suburbs.

The union wants a Detroit-centric bus system because it wants to keep the maximum amount of transportation dollars in the city, and thus in pockets of its members. That’s understandable. But it doesn’t foster an effective regional transit system, something that Metro Detroit has too long lived without.

— THE DETROIT NEWS