There is no better evidence of the sharp social divisions that continue to haunt metro Detroit than the appalling state of its transit system.
When it comes to public transportation, residents of the city of Detroit and suburbanites live in a state of government sanctioned apartheid. They ride fully separate systems, with fully separate sets of maps and noncooperating administrations.
Here, urban-suburban tensions are so intense, multiple tries over decades have failed to produce a unified regional transit system. Instead, the suburbs are served by the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and the city of Detroit is served by the Detroit Department of Transportation.
And it’s not just a logistical nightmare for riders, it’s a major obstacle to the region’s economy. There is no regional vision for transit, because Detroit — unlike every other major city in the country — still lacks a regional transit system.
But now the federal government is stepping in to help remedy the situation and it’s holding a $300 million bargaining chip. The Federal Transit Administration recently called experts together to brainstorm ways to improve and unify Detroit’s transit system, and Crain’s Detroit reports that FTA chief Peter Rogoff has followed that event up with closed-door meetings to help bring about regional solution. Apparently, the federal government has some concerns about turning over the grant funds needed to realize Detroit’s Woodward Corridor light rail plans with the transit system in its current state.
For one, the light rail line is intended to extend beyond the city limits into some of the northern suburbs.
“[An RTA] has to happen for the project to achieve its broader utility,” Rogoff told Crain’s. Rogoff also told Crain’s he was concerned that Detroit would raid money from bus transit service in order to support the rail expansion, which is prohibited under the terms of the federal transit grants.
Meanwhile, like most transit systems across the country, both of metro Detroit’s are suffering. But the redundancies that are part of Detroit’s two-system solution only worsen the landscape for the region’s carless masses.