MML Review Magazine May/June 2024


RTA Executive Director Ben Stupka cuts the ribbon to officially launch Detroit Air Xpress, the new nonstop coach transit service that will connect Downtown Detroit and DTW Airport.

RTA staff surveys SE Michigan residents as part of its community engagement series to update the Regional Transit Master Plan.

“ Transit connects older adults and younger adults back into their communities and to jobs, social networks, and attainable housing. For every dollar spent on transit, $5 of economic growth follows. ”

Transit Planning At the RTA, we like to say we plan, we fund, we coordinate, and we accelerate. Specifically, we plan transit projects and reports, coordinate with various services and municipalities, fund transformative mobility, and accelerate pilot projects. Our role helps make the value proposition of transit to business leaders and creates proofs of concepts that people can get behind. A guidelight among other duties, we maintain a Regional Transit Master Plan (RTMP), a unified spearhead for transit priorities that points the region in one direction. Annually updated, the RTMP considers transit trends, public opinion, and transit provider feedback to establish a compass for pilots to pursue and grants to go after. Just like communities need master plans and states need predictive population estimates, our transit systems need to be considered in the same light. Identifying the services best geared to our communities is a crucial step to getting the most out of limited transit dollars. And limited transit dollars are an issue. Funding The reason for Metro Detroit’s longstanding transit shortcomings can almost entirely be tied to funding—not culture, not the auto industry, but funding. Juxtaposed to 12 comparable Midwestern peers, the region spends the second-least on transit per capita. Our current transit system is the result of decades spent funding other priorities before transit.

Recently, we’ve had a taste for what a splash of new funds can do. Awards through the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act have accelerated the post-pandemic rebound and bolstered what agencies can provide. These parachute funds have allowed the RTA to expand our team and launch new pilot programs. Currently, this is the RTA model: stack wins and build a sturdy foundation. With a stable organization and rider requested pilots, we envision a transit system that people will believe in. But everyone knows: Sustainable funds are how you build a system that endures. There’s a solution that can assist every community in Michigan, if we decide that our population trend (not to mention economic and climate conditions) demands a departure from business as usual. Local Bus Operating funds (LBO) is the tide that equally lifts the fortunes of transit providers across the state. Transit, like many vital government services, can’t recapture all its expenses through user fees. LBO is state formula funding distributed based on population and transit services. According to state law, LBO can reimburse transit providers up to 60 percent of their operating costs in rural areas and up to 50 percent in urban areas. As a state, we usually hover closer to the 30 percent figure, which is about $190M underfunded. During the pandemic, that figure perked up. But now we risk returning to the status quo. To put it in terms that local officials understand, this is the revenue-sharing dilemma of transportation.

| May/June 2024 | 15

Made with FlippingBook - Online magazine maker