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Detroit Regional Chamber Testimony on House Bill 5870: Regional Transit Opt Out Proposal

The following testimony was delivered by Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, during a hearing of the Michigan House Tax Policy Committee on May 9, 2018.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. The Detroit Regional Chamber serves as the voice of the business community throughout the Detroit region. The Chamber’s support for increased transit options is not a secret. As importantly, the Chamber believes that our region flourishes when it works collaboratively. This is why the Chamber opposes House Bill 5870 and any effort to impose new restrictions on the RTA, minus an agreement that leaders across the region have agreed upon.

Developing a highly functional regional transit system is one of the most vexing challenges facing our region. While cities like Seattle, Atlanta and Nashville have passed new funding and invested in their system since the 2012 creation of the RTA, the Detroit region has remained stuck in neutral. Our region continues to lead the world in developing the next-generation 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.

Passage of HB 5870 will make our efforts to solve this economic issue even more difficult. The RTA legislation was painstakingly negotiated and supported by the leaders of the four counties in our region and the city of Detroit. It does not represent 100 percent of what any individual interest desires in a regional transit authority, however it does represent our best opportunity to build a transit system worthy of our region. The Chamber is supportive of the effort led by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans to develop a plan that meets the needs of each individual county.

Mr. Evans’ plan is currently open for public comment for residents of all four counties. After completing the public comment period, the RTA Board will have the opportunity to amend the plan before choosing whether or not to adopt it. We would discourage the Legislature from interfering in this ongoing process.

Legislators in both houses and both parties have taken an interest in lowering auto insurance rates without success to date. Individuals on both sides can agree that a significant driver or high auto insurance rates is the number of uninsured drivers, particularly in cities like Detroit. Too many individuals are asked to choose between driving uninsured and getting to work. A quick scan on the Pure Michigan Talent Connect portal shows that there are currently 936 unfilled jobs in Livonia, 1,030 in Novi, 424 in Canton, and 200 in Bloomfield Hills, each of these communities currently opts out of SMART bus service. Not only are those jobs inaccessible to individuals in other communities who are unable to drive, but residents in these and other opt-out communities are not able to access the 1,518 jobs available in Southfield, the 1,852 jobs in Dearborn, or the 942 jobs open in Warren.

Our region has shown repeatedly that solutions to our most intractable issues is more collaboration and not less. When Cobo Center was in danger of losing the North American International Auto Show because of inadequate facilities, the region came together to create an authority to invest in what is now a regional jewel and continue Detroit’s signature event with economic benefits across the region.

The region supports cultural assets like the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of Arts, drawing visitors from across the state and country. Most recently, after years of clamoring for a voice in the city of Detroit’s water system that serves the entire region, we created the Great Lakes Water Authority to allow for investment in the infrastructure while creating a strong suburban voice in its operation. That is not to say that any of these examples have been without difficulty.  However, our region is best served when we recognize that municipal boundaries are not boundaries of our community.

The Chamber is interested in continuing to engage local and state elected officials regarding the best way to solve our long-term mobility challenge, however we believe this legislation would only damage the region and communities within it.

More Testimony News Coverage: 

Opt-Out Bill Spurs Debate On Detroit Regional Transit Expansion

Regional Transit Opt-Out Plan Emerges In Michigan House

‘Opt out’ proposal may be trouble for regional transit plan