Transit Summit Connects… Communities and more (video)

Transit Summit Connects Business, Faith, Education Communities and More (video)royal_services

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 22, 2014)


Who cares about public transportation? Judging from the diverse crowd at the Build Business Build Transit summit on Nov. 18 at Ford Field in Detroit, it’s pretty much everybody.

The summit brought together people in the faith community, representatives from several colleges and universities, elected officials from throughout the region, corporate decision-makers and others who want to see multiple ways for people to get around Metro Detroit.

Paul Hillegonds, candlewickHOLIDAYChair of the Regional Transit Authority, talked about the basic need for safe and efficient transportation options and how his agency came into being. The RTA was created by Michigan law with bipartisan support from the legislature and the Governor to come up with public transportation solutions. The Authority is funded for three years and is likely to go to the public to ask for funding for infrastructure that will help make Detroit more competitive with just about every other major metropolitan area. The RTA covers Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties, and any votes for funding would be system-wide with no opt-outs allowed, as has happened with cities in the SMART bus service area. The RTA is aided by a 50 person citizens advisory committee,gallowaycollens1 some of whom use transit currently.

“One-third of Detroit families don’t have vehicles,” Hillegonds said. “And there are a growing number of seniors who need transportation.” He also noted that many young people want to live in transit-accessible communities. “If we don’t have a transit system that connects people to jobs, to healthcare, we won’t develop as a region.”

Leaders from University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne State University, Macomb Community College and Oakland Community College sat on a panel talking about what practical transit could mean for students.

Dr. James Jacobs, President of Macomb Community College, said “that the growth of the number of people using public transit to both of the main campuses is noticeable.”

Oakland Community College President Dr. Steven Reif regrets that the Southfield and Royal Oak Campuses are CFSEM-123-OaklandCounty115-digital-ad_v2not connected well by transit. “The students cannot take advantage of the classes that are located across the county,” Reif said. “Students have to take a bus all the way Downtown and back out between classes and there are just not enough hours in the day.” He said that small studies on campus show that if there was transit available, half would take advantage of course offerings at more than one location.

On the west side of the state, there is a bus line that connects Grand Rapids to Allendale, mainly for student use. It’s one of the most popular lines of the “The Rapid” public transportation system. “They [students] like the idea of being able to study on the bus and talk to each other. These kinds of details are things we looked over, but that’s what we learned [by talking to them],” Reif said.

Michael G. Ford, CEO of the RTA, also spoke about the broad implications of regional transit, including the economic benefits. From bringing people out to ball games, to encouraging more travel between cities and attracting employees from other cities where good public transit is the norm, Ford said, transit benefits even people and businesses that do not use it directly themselves. “Whether you drive a car or not, whether you use transit or not, this has an impact on you.”

The summit also brought in a national expert to talk about how to promote the idea of supporting transit initiatives. Jason Jordon of the Center for Transportation Excellence in sidebar01sponsorWashington DC has helped transit campaigns across the country.

One campaign he shared did a commercial with a nurse who takes the bus to work, letting an auto-driving man know that if he got sick and nurses like her could not get to work to help him, it could end up with reduced quality of care.

“The real sell is that people believe that if they vote for transit, other people will take it,” Jordan said, emphasizing the positive force of neighborly concern.

Traffic congestion reduction is another common argument transit advocates make to their auto-driving chazzano game adaudiences. And while this is a good logical idea, Jordan recommends keeping this positive too. “Don’t make it all about the traffic, but about what you get by not being in traffic,” he said. Referring to a positive campaign, Jordan said “When they talked about congestion they didn’t talk about the cars that are in your way, they talked about the extra time with your family.”

Former State Rep. Marie Donigan, planning consultant and chief organizer for the event, is excited about the momentum the transit movement has.  “This is Tubman’s second regional transit system – it follows the summit at the Zoo on June 4 that brought out more than 100 people – we are trying to build a coalition. And Dennis Cowan, former Mayor of Royal Oak, is on our planning team. We got more than 40 commitment cards for people who what to hold community meetings with the RTA to provide input into the regional transit plan.We’ll be holding those meeting in March and April,” she said.

To learn more about the RTA visit

For more on the Metro Coalition of Congregations, part of the Harriet Tubman Center, see

For more on Regional Elderly Mobility Alliance go to

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