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‘Yes’ Vote on Connected Transit System Essential to Region’s Future

A Roadmap for Economic Resilience

By Sandy K. Baruah

Transit. This seven-letter word has been on the hearts and minds of Michiganders for over a decade. To some it represents economic opportunity, while to others it is a lifeline to family, hospitals, and other essential services.

Over 100 years ago, business leaders from this region identified transportation and the ability to move individuals and products safely and efficiently as one of the primary challenges facing the region. A century later we are still dealing with this fundamental issue. Transit in the Detroit region has fared poorly compared to other metropolitan regions across the country, with studies placing the region near the bottom.

From the perspective of the business community in our region, lack of a safe, reliable connected transit system linking Southeast Michigan’s four counties (Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw) is a missed opportunity. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, 92 percent of the region’s jobs are not reachable within 60 minutes using our current transit options. That is simply unacceptable.

I have lived with coordinated public transit most of my life. In my former hometowns of Portland and Washington, D.C., I have seen firsthand the economic impact that transit can have on cities and surrounding suburban communities. If we desire to be a world-class city and region, coordinated public transit is an absolute necessity.

The Chamber applauds the hard work and dedication of our elected leaders, who, along with the RTA Board of Directors, came together on an agreement that benefits all residents in the region. This compromise is an extension of the type of collaborative leadership that has become the hallmark of our elected leaders. Gone are the days of divisiveness and “go it alone” mentality, replaced by strong leaders who do not shy away from tough decisions while working collaboratively to erase the “dotted lines” on the map.

Now it is our turn as voters. Metro Detroiters face an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new path forward for our region’s long-term economic prosperity by voting “yes” on transit in November.

The proposal voters will be asked to approve is the very definition of “bang for the buck” and offers a path forward we desperately need. The benefits will be felt throughout the entire region. For the first time, we will have connected communities that allow residents to navigate via public transit, regardless of political boundaries, and job-hunters will be able to answer “yes” when a job application asks whether they have reliable transportation.

Not only is it the right thing to do for our businesses, it is the human thing to do for our residents. A properly funded transit system will also provide seniors and people with disabilities with increased independence and better access to employment, health care and family.

Finally, Detroit and our other cities will be able to compete on equal footing in the battle for talent — a critical need for employers starving for qualified employees to close the gap. It is not enough to simply say, “come check us out.” In study after study, millennials put regional transit at the top of their wish list when considering their career. If we truly want to be a contender for the next generation of talent, we must have the infrastructure in place that attracts and retains our young people and can safely and reliably get them from their home to their job and to our world-class colleges and universities.

By voting yes for robust transit to connect Southeast Michigan, we will be able to grow and compete with other regions, build for the future and ensure a better collective quality of life for all.