Print Friendly and PDF

Detroit chamber launches mass transit TV campaign ahead of RTA ballot proposal

From: Crain’s Detroit Business

By: Bill Shea

March 16, 2016

The Detroit Regional Chamber is taking to the airwaves in support of the Regional Transit Authority for Southeast Michigan’s forthcoming ballot proposal that will ask voters to approve a mass transit tax.

The chamber has planned a series of television commercials highlighting the lack of effective regional mass transit and how that is a drain on the local economy.

“There will be an ongoing information and educational campaign through the summer — all designed to show that Southeast Michigan has one of the worst regional public transit systems in the country and the different aspects of this very real problem facing employers having access to talent and hiring new employees, workers getting to jobs and, seniors and people with disabilities being stranded or with too few options,” said Jim Martinez, the chamber’s director of communications, via email.

The first 30-second spot started airing Tuesday on various targeted cable networks, the chamber said.

The campaign is being paid for by the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation with support from the Troy-based Kresge Foundation. Specific financial details were not disclosed.

The RTA in May plans to introduce its regional mass transit proposal that will include a November ballot proposal seeking a tax to fund the project across Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

The TV commercials are officially the work of A Coalition for Transit, run by the Detroit office of Lansing-based public relations and nonpartisan political consulting firm Truscott Rossman LLC.

The commercials don’t specifically endorse the RTA’s to-be-unveiled tax proposal (which reportedly is expected to be about a 1-mill property tax increase).

“We’re focused exclusively now on a public information and education campaign to highlight the problems facing Southeast Michigan’s regional public transit system,” Martinez said. “A strong, connected regional transit system has been a longstanding priority for the Detroit Regional Chamber and our members to compete effectively across the country and ensure future economic growth and vibrant communities.”

The spots were created by Buffalo, N.Y.-based Joe Slade White & Co., a noted longtime Democratic strategist who worked on Mike Duggan’s successful write-in campaign for mayor of Detroit.

The RTA was created in 2012, after 40 years of failed attempts to do so, with the intent of creating an actual regional transportation plan and network for the metro area.

Michael Ford, the RTA’s CEO, has said the organization’s board is expected to approve the ballot proposal in July. Ford and other RTA officials have spent about a year hosting meetings with the public, business, political, and civic leaders to get opinions about transit needs, and to educate the public about mass transit plans.

The RTA has a stated goal of getting a dedicated tax issue on the 2016 ballot to fund what will be laid out in a master plan, which is expected to be a bus rapid transit system.

Under a bus rapid transit system, buses operate much like a rail line, with specialized train-like wheeled vehicles with dedicated lanes, priority traffic signaling and higher speeds. They likely would run along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues.

The tax would be the local funding required to access matching federal funding to build and operate a BRT system. The RTA would have to apply for such funding from the federal government and the process is vigorously competitive and often lengthy.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments regional planning agency, which deals with federal funding for transit projects, has been handling the BRT study for the RTA as the organization ramped up.

If the plan, tax and federal capital funding are approved, the line could be underway by 2018 or 2019, SEMCOG has said.

BRT lines are less expensive to build than train lines.

Woodward would be the initial line, as recommended in a report commissioned by SEMCOG and released in fall 2014.

It would have 26 stops, take about an hour to travel the entire length and run in a separate median lane with passenger stations. Some downtown stations could be shared with the city’s new M-1 Rail streetcar system under construction.

SEMCOG developed the basic BRT plan because it determined that transit improvements must be made along the 27 miles of Woodward — one of the region’s main transit routes since the precolonial era — to bolster mobility and access to jobs, connect people with destinations along the corridor, and to fuel economic development along the route.

The RTA also is responsible for coordinating mass transit operations and funding across the four counties, including cooperation among established transit agencies such as the Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART bus systems.