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Brad Williams Testifies on Regional Transit Bill to House Committee

Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Brad Williams and I am the Vice President of Government Relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber. The Chamber has been the voice of the business community for our region since 1903 and sometimes it seems like we have been clamoring for a regional transit system in the region that long too. In fact, if you look back at some of the earliest issues of the Detroiter magazine put out by the Chamber, you will see discussion of investing in Detroit’s once robust streetcar system. While the methods and demands for transit have changed since 1903, we sit here today as the largest municipal area in that nation without a coordinated regional transit system. In fact, when you look at major metropolitan areas, Detroit is at the bottom of per capita spending on public transit, just below us is San Juan and just above us is Cincinnati.

Regions that we compete with like Seattle, Atlanta and Nashville have passed new funding and invested in their system since the Republican Legislature passed, and Governor Snyder signed legislation creating the Regional Transit Authority in 2012. Still, Detroit remains stuck in neutral. Our region continues to lead the world in developing the next generation of mobility that is changing the world, however our efforts to safely and efficiently move people and goods have come up short. For years, business leaders have been arguing that our lack of regional transit is holding our region back economically, we now have tangible proof with Amazon’s decision not to advance Detroit to its list of HQ2 finalists and citing our lack of transit as a primary concern. Our shortcomings in this area should not be construed as a criticism of our current transit providers, the lack of resources and structural deficiencies, including the ability of communities to opt-out of SMART has added to the complexity of the challenge.

A seamless system is important for employment. A quick scan of Pure Michigan Talent Connect shows that in the last week there have been 315 jobs posted in Novi, 421 jobs in Livonia, 276 in Rochester and 174 jobs in Waterford. None of these jobs are currently inaccessible by any regional transit. That does not account for the 360 jobs in Dearborn, the 471 jobs in Southfield or 759 in Troy that are inaccessible by transit to residents of opt-out communities. This legislature put a lot of effort into lowering the cost of car insurance last year. For many Michiganders, that will bring welcome relief. Still for some, the cost of car insurance will still be prohibitive and when faced with the choice of driving without insurance or not getting to work, many will choose to continue to drive uninsured meaning the promise of insurance reform remains unrealized.

House Bill 5550 gives our region a path forward on regional transit. Instead of spending another year trying to thread the needle in search of the elusive perfect deal that always seems to fall apart at the end, House Bill 5550 allows for an opportunity to build a system around the counties who are ready to proceed, and using the Regional Transit Authority that was painstakingly negotiated by regional leaders including Brooks Patterson to protect the interests of those who choose to participate. To be clear, House Bill 5550 takes a Regional Transit Authority that was negotiated by conservatives and makes it even more conservative by allowing counties to remove themselves from a plan and capping the number of mills the RTA may request.

Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the largest employers in the Detroit region, your leadership on this issue is appreciated. We look forward to continued progress on regional transit and looking forward to the day when we can gather together and talk about how glad we are that we finally passed Cincinnati.