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Opinion: Vote yes on RTA proposal

Crain’s Detroit Business 

October 9, 2016

If you’ve noticed phone calls, direct-mail pieces, TV and radio spots — and just more chatter about regional transit — there’s a reason for that. A multimillion-dollar campaign — paid for by ballot committee Citizens for Connecting our Communities — is urging voters in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties to vote yes on paying 1.2 mills toward a plan that would create a network of bus rapid transit routes and support commuter rail.

The system would move people more easily from county to county, matching many of the prevalent commuting patterns. It also would solve the problem of “opt-out” communities because the state law creating the Regional Transit Authority does not allow cities to opt out.

A yes vote is important, and the business community should play a more visible role in backing the proposal in the final weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

While groups like the Detroit Regional Chamber have long been on board, what’s also needed is a grass-roots push — more small-business owners talking to small-business owners, managers of stores in retail hubs and shopping malls starved for workers — and more large companies making very strong statements. So far, the roster of support includes names like DTE Energy, Ford Motor Co., Lear Corp. and Quicken Loans. That is counter to the usual business operator approach of staying out of the political fray.

This is a workforce issue. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, about 92 percent of jobs in the region cannot be reached with a commuting time of less than 60 minutes on existing transit. If an auto supplier assembly operation in Chesterfield Township, or a tech company in Ann Arbor, or a restaurant in northern Oakland County is having trouble attracting entry-level employees, this could help solve that pain point.

As a matter of fact, the campaign is collecting such case studies on its website, under the title “The Disconnected Challenge.”

Beyond a workforce issue, the RTA is an issue at the forefront for seniors and health care institutions. The rapid buses would give increased mobility to people with disabilities and people who don’t have a car.

In addition, about a quarter of the state’s population will be 60 and older by 2030. While it’s clear many people will never take a rapid bus when they can drive, call an Uber or find another option, this is a case where the greater good of making sure workers can get to jobs and making sure seniors can get to the doctor is well worth a relatively minor additional tax.

The RTA asks for a 20-year, 1.2-mill property tax increase to fund the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan’s master plan. Organizers have said an average homeowner in the four counties would pay about $95 a year. At 1.2 mills, the owner of a $400,000 house would pay about $240.

It’s time for the region to get this done. Vote yes on RTA and tell a friend to do the same.

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