Transportation in Michigan

PRE-PROPOSAL

1. Media Artifact

Link to media artifact(s) giving background on the issue. Please list the title of the artifact(s) and then make the title(s) a link to the page in the MSC site where the artifact has been posted. You may include media artifacts made by other MSC members, if relevant, even if they are not authors of this proposal.

 

2. Persona and POV statement

Persona: 

Persona name: Corey Smith 
Age: 17 
School/occupation: Cass Technical High School 
Location: Detroit, Michigan 
 
Quote“I had to wait an hour for one yesterday!”
 
About:
  • Does not own a car and therefore relies on public transportation to reach school 
  • He worries that the education he will receive at the nearby Denby high school will not provide him with a quality education compared to that of Cass Tech.  He has decided to take advantage of Detroit's law that permits school of choice, so that he can attend Cass Tech. 
  • By not owning a car, he is at a severe disadvantage compared to his peers. The commute from Denby to Cass Tech is just under 10 miles but takes over an hour by bus each way. There's no direct route for Corey to take, so he's forced to rely on 3 different buses just to reach Cass Tech. 
  • Takes the DDOT bus to high school, but service times are unreliable and he was constantly showing up late to school, negatively impacting his performance in his classes 
Goals:
  • Able to reach his high school on time without owning a car 
  • Wants a reliable public transportation system implemented in Detroit without having to wait for hours 
  • Wants to be able to have an after-school job in parts of the city that were previously out-of-reach, which would become more plausible for those who don't have a car if a reliable service was introduced to Detroit

 

POV Statement:

  • User : Corey Smith 
  • Need: Needs reliable transportation to commute to his high school 
  • Insight : 17 -year-old boy, whose family doesn't have enough disposable income to buy a car, leaving him with no guaranteed method of transportation to highschool, negatively affecting his performance inside the classroom 
 

 

3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: Detroit should take a look at what Portland has done and mirror their solution. In Portland, the key to making public transportation attractive to users is that it’s practicable, affordable for riders and was well integrated into the city. The most utilized form of transportation is the MAX,  a privately owned light-rail system. With over 97 stations in Portland, the practicality of the MAX cannot be understated. Even though I lived 30 miles away from the city, a station was just a mile away from me and could take me straight to downtown all for the price of $1.25. Instead of driving to work, my parents simply took the MAX. The Max was able to solve the main issues that Portland citizens had, something the Michigan state government needs to take note of. 

SOLUTION 2: With the Connect Southeast Michigan narrowly defeated in 2016, the solution is already in place. This plan is by far the most comprehensive out of the three, as its aim is to connect to suburbs to Detroit. One of the most pressing arguments among individuals was that public transportation would hike up taxes too much, especially for individuals who wouldn't be utilizing it. Rather than driving up taxes, the state department should allocate a slight percentage of the money used to rebuild roads for public transportation. As there'll be fewer cars on the road due to this, the roads won't face as much stress as they once did, so they won't need as much funding. 

SOLUTION 3: Finally, Michigan should look to revamp its transit network to better meet the demands of the future by incorporating technology to solve its issues. With sites like MCIty here in Ann Arbor, Detroit should serve as a pilot program to test out the beneficiaries of connected and automated vehicles to serve the population. Driverless technology has been gaining tons of traction after MCity successfully implemented a driverless shuttle. By implementing a few driverless shuttles in Detroit, it could serve as a testing ground for other large metropolitan areas and also benefit the people, as it would be much more reliable than the current DDOT bus network or the QLine. 

BACKGROUND AND RESEARCH PROCESS

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal: Act 387 of 2012 

"AN ACT to provide for certain regional transit authorities; to provide regional public transportation; to prescribe certain powers and duties of a regional transit authority and of certain state agencies and officials; to authorize the levy of an assessment and to provide for the issuance of bonds and notes; to collect certain taxes; to make appropriations; to provide for the pledge of assessment revenues and other funds for bond and note payments; and to repeal acts and parts of acts."

This act led to the development of the Regional Transit Authority of Michigan which was created in 2012 to coordinate public transportation efforts and fund county-wide projects among Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb county, which makes up metro-Detroit. This act has given the RTA the means to create a public transit system, but it can only done so with public approval. 

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:  Whether some individuals are too old, too young, physically on financially unable, public transit is the only way for them to travel within Michigan. Currently, there are many cities within metro-Detroit that are simply untraversable with the current public transportation. With such little funding currently allocated to public transit, lives for those who rely on public transportation has become increasingly difficult. According to governing.com, through census data, they found that 25.3% of households don't own a car. For these individuals, public transit is fundamental to their daily life. With a shifting trend among the youth that they aren't as likely to own a car, it makes sense to invest in a comprehensive public transit system in metro-Detroit. The ripples of such a system won't just aid students in Michigan, but even employers, as this will lead to workers having a reliable alternative to reaching work. This will primarily aid those living in Wayne County who are of lower socioeconomic status, but the beauty behind public transportation is that it is open to all. Ideally, with ongoing traffic issues within metro-Detroit, we would see public transit being adopted by individuals who have the means to drive but are searching for a more functional approach to reach work, leading to reduced emissions. 

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal? Born and raised in Portland, Oregon for the first ten years of my life, there were many aspects of my life that I missed once I moved to Troy, Michigan. From a winning basketball team to accessibility and public transportation, these were just a few areas that metro - Detroit was lacking compared to my hometown. If I wanted to go downtown to watch the Pistons play and I didn’t have my car, the only feasible alternative was to call an Uber instead. That's when I started questioning how life was for those who didn't have a car.

Additionally, my persona was built off one of my best friends in high school. My high school was open to all districts and even though it was based in Troy, many of my peers would come from the city. Transportation was a major issue for them, as there was no public transit available from Detroit to Troy. They would be spending over an hour just to reach school and it impacted what clubs they could do after school, limiting the number of opportunities that were available to them. Seeing their struggles made me question why such a large metropolitan area such as Detroit did not have a functioning system in place when many cities with lower population had so. 

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

For my service activity, I volunteered at Books for a Benefit. Reading has always been a passion of mine and I've always love to share it with others. On Sundays, we would volunteer at the Glacier Hills Senior Community Living Center and read to the various seniors. Visiting a retirement home gave me a grim reality of their lives, as these seniors were subject to the same daily routine and didn't seem to have much going on. While conversing with some of the seniors that I was reading to, I found out that some of them choose to come to Glacier Hills after they were physically unable to drive. Completing daily activities was too much of a challenge and the fact that they couldn't depend on the public transportation system meant that they no longer had the ability to take care of themselves without being able to drive. My service activity presented to me how important having access to adequate public transportation is in Michigan. For those who don't have a car, completing even the most basic tasks become a challenge. 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1:  One of the biggest advocates of public transportation in metro-Detroit is the Transportation Riders United. I had the opportunity to speak to an individual on the team, and they spoke to me about how close the 2016 plan was to getting passed. She told me that it wasn't that the plan wasn't feasible, but rather it was internal politics that kept the bill from getting added as a proposal to be voted on. Public transportation has emerged as a partisan issue, which Republicans typically seeing it a waste of scarce resources and a costly expense, while Democrats wanting to increase taxes to create the infrastructure. Within the metro-area, Macomb and Oakland were heavily against such a bill from being passed. One of the main reasons why is that residents felt that they would be paying for a service that they themselves wouldn't be using, but rather those in Wayne County would be the primary beneficiaries. There has been a lot of miseducation spread amongst residents about this bill and it has influenced people's opinions about public transportation. After hearing her mention that the funding was only coming from a few counties, I asked why her why this wasn't a statewide issue since this service would be encompassing multiple counties. She told about the Regional Transit Authority that was established in 2012, and they were given the autonomy to raise taxes to create a wide-spreading public transportation network. While the state pledged 25% to any proposal they raised, it would be up to citizens of these counties to pay for the rest. Finally, I talked to her about the failures of the QLine in Detroit and what an effective model would like. Ideally, it would be a multifaceted approach of both high-speed buses and a rail system that would be the most effective in Detroit due to its lower urban density. 

CONSULTATION 2: I talked to my high school teacher who resides in Ferndale, Michigan and didn't have a reliable means of transportation for a short period of time. He attempted to take several buses to reach our high school, but the public system wasn't reliable at all. Some days the bus would show up 15 minutes before it's scheduled time and other days, it would pull up 30 minutes late. This inconsistency was infuriating to my teacher and he quickly switched back to driving to school. While mentioning this story to me, he was concerned about the general population within Michigan that didn't have access to a car and how they were able to reach to and from work on time. 

CONSULTATION 3: While attempting to find sources to formulate a plan about public transit across Michigan, I came across an article written by Wendell Cox from the Mackinaw Center of Public Policy, criticizing the need for public transit in Michigan. I was interested in learning what caused him to be so against public transportation in Michigan, so I contacted his consulting agency Demographia to learn more. What he said really changed my perspective on how I should analyze what it means to have effective public transportation. He told me that I should focus on what percentage of people use public transportation as a means to get to and from work and how low that percentage is in Detroit. Additionally, he stated that since Michigan's population density is much lower than other large urban centers, it doesn't make sense to invest so much money into a system that wouldn't be accessible to the majority. His viewpoint exposed me to the counter-arguments I would face while proposing this bill. 

 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Cassie's posts on Physical Infrastructure aided me in focusing on the scope of my project on what benefits of public transport I should hone in on. The benefits of public transport cover a wide range of sectors - from simply a practicality aspect, improving inequality, or even limiting carbon emissions. Cassie's posts highlighted the recently approved state budget plan that would allocate over $400 million to improving roads. One of the reasons why roads have deteriorated so much is that they simply are overused, as there is no alternative to driving in Michigan. Improving these roads is only a short-term issue. With Michigan's horrid winters coupled with the vast traffic on highways, it makes sense why these roads are in such bad shape. Through Cassie's post, I realized that I should focus on the crumbling roads and inequality present inherently in Michigan rather than possible environmental effects. While not to diminish the value public transportation could bring to limiting carbon emissions, I believe that if I have a bill that's grounded in the value it could bring to individual citizens than it would appeal more to them than rather a bill centered on environmental effects. 

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

My research process revolved around analyzing inefficiencies around me and understanding what legislation was being passed to solve these issues in my community. Traveling in Portland, Oregon last year, I found how practical and affordable transportation was there and was wondering whether Michigan had plans to create a sprawling public transportation network to connect various cities. In doing so, I found that Michigan had a bill called the Connect Southeast Michigan Transit plan, which proposed creating a rail line between Ann Arbor and Detroit. However, this bill was narrowly shut down. While attempting to find what factors of the bill caused it not to pass, I found out that public transportation was usually a partisan issue, with your stance dependent on your party lines. One of the main pieces that helped me understand why was actually Hasan Minhaj's Netflix show titled "Why Your Public Transportation Sucks" and it focused on how the billionaire Koch brothers spent their vast fortune creating a nation-wide smear campaign to shut down public transit because their money was tied to the automobile industry. Digging into the Connect Southeast Michigan plan, I found that the basis of the plan was something I agreed with, but its presentation to the public is what caused issues, as it alienated residents from certain counties who believed that they were being taxed for a service that they themselves wouldn't use. 

 

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

While my classmates provided an opportunity to bounce ideas and fine what topics interested me the most, I worked on this project by myself and take responsibility for all that has been created. 

 

FORMAL PROPOSAL

The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS... 66,000 households in Detroit lack a car and don't have access to a mode of transportation 

WHEREAS... in Detroit, more than 75 percent decline to attend their closest school

WHEREAS...the longer students had to travel to school the more likely they were to miss school and transfer out

WHEREAS.... Detroit's per capita transit investment in metro areas of a population greater than one million in comparison to other cities across the US is the third-lowest out of 41 cities 

WHEREAS.... the average annual auto insurance premium across the country is $1,427, but drivers in Michigan pay $2,610 on average, while Detroit motorists pay $5,414 on average. 

WHEREAS... poor transit access is linked to unemployment, low income, and low economic mobility

WHEREAS... areas such as Rochester, Novi, Plymouth and Livonia are currently unserved despite their net population totaling over 200,000

WHEREAS... the QLine is recovering less than 10 percent of its expenses from fares and has failed to address the lack of access between the suburbs and Detroit

WHEREAS... Only 3 percent of residents in Detroit have easy access to a bus that runs every 15 minutes or less.

WHEREAS... Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

1. The QLine has undoubtedly been an exorbitant waste of taxpayers' money and fails to serve Detroit in a functional manner. Without significant changes to its operations, it may be out of service in a few years, as its ridership has started dwindling. Building off this already developed infrastructure could help make this service more functional for residents in the greater parts of Detroit to use. While the QLine right now only runs as a 3.3 mile loop from the New Center to the Renaissance Center, extending this route, and creating lines that run from East to West would continue to serve underrepresented areas within Detroit. Building off think313's proposed adjustments to the QLine, the line would extend off Woodward Avenue and serve the greater Detroit region. In addition, the creation of a new streetcar line running east from downtown on Jefferson Avenue would ensure that QLine can serve all regions of Detroit. These new additions to the QLine would increase its range from 3.3 miles slightly greater than 21 miles. By serving areas of high urban density within downtown Detroit and areas of lower socioeconomic statuses, this plan will lead to economic development while also serving the needs of an average high school student who attends Cass Tech. 

2.  With Detroit so spread out, to complement the rail, increased bus service should be used, as there are currently many gaps in the system. Detroit should supplement the QLine with increase bus coverage to ensure that areas that are currently underserved are well integrated into the system.  With the QLine only operating in the heart of downtown, it isn't made to serve those who are in need of public transportation desperately. One of the biggest complaints about the QLine, which operates as a streetcar in downtown Detroit is the speed. To tackle this issue, some cities have been pushing for dedicated lanes solely to buses to increase speeds. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has echoed these statements, stating that he wishes that "the QLine would have been a dedicated lane down the middle the street" to maximize its efficiency. Alongside more frequent service, this would greatly increase the number of riders utilizing public transportation. 

3. While this solution is much more innovative, a pilot program could be launched to test autonomous shuttles as a means of transportation. Instead of using buses, these shuttles could be incorporated within Detroit and serve as essentially an Uber for its riders. By enabling riders to dictate where they want to go, it will increase access to the number of jobs they can reach, and directly take riders from Point A to Point B. There is already a  precedent of this in Detroit, as an Ann-Arbor based startup called May Mobility that is developing autonomous shuttles has already started to test its fleet by partnering with Bedrock and Quicken Loans employees. These shuttles are being tested within a one-mile loop between the Bricktown Parking Garage and One Campus Martius. If this pilot program could be expanded to incorporate all of Detroit, so that those at need could benefit, then this futuristic technology could be used to solve the desperately needed public transportation issues within Detroit. 

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)

Counter-arguments:

What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. Why will residents who don't utilize public transportation feel comfortable in a driverless shuttle?

2. How will the implementation of a vast public transportation network within Detroit impact a city built off the car industry, and will it lower sales?

3. How can we ensure that a public transportation system will serve its purpose even though Detroit's urban density is much lower than other large metropolitan areas that have successfully implemented public transportation?

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from? Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Funding will need to raised to create such a large infrastructure. Because of the establishment of Regional Transit Authority, the majority of the funding will have to be raised from taxpayers in these areas. According to The Detroit News, efforts are being made to put a new $5.4 billion, 1.5-mill regional tax hike proposal" to fund the development of public transportation. While this was effectively shut down in 2018, regional transit leaders are considering a 1.4-mill property tax proposal that could go before Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne county voters in November 2020. From my consultation with a member of the Transportation Riders United, I found that the state's budget will cover up to 25% of the costs incurred by the Regional Transit Authority. Any expansion plans to the QLine would be significantly expensive. Employing the Qline's original cost as a base rate, since it ended up costing $144 million for the 3.3-mile-long line,  any increase to the line would cost $43 million per mile. With the proposed solution, Think313 estimates that this proposed expansion plan would total over $770 million.  

To reduce the cost and ensure that this increase in public transportation will be operational in the long-run, the Regional Transit Authority should look into a public-private partnership with companies that are willing to invest in this model or provide technology to create an autonomous pilot program in place. In Portland, this model was used and it has achieved great success, as both institutions kept each other in check, so they were operating efficiently and even constructed the rail below the given budget. Analyzing companies that endorsed the 2016 Connect Southeast Michigan Plan, the Regional Transit Authority should approach companies such as Ford, GM, Blue Cross Blue Shield, DMC and DTE Energy, who were proponents of the plan to unite and establish a partnership. Additionally, 49.5% of residents voted in 2016 that they were willing to incur a slight tax for a robust public transportation system to be developed, so by increasing property taxes, this could provide the funding needed to develop the system. By the RTA subsidizing the costs for May Mobility, it could start to serve all of Detroit to provide rapid transportation to the public. While as of now, May Mobility has only 5 shuttles in Detroit, expanding its fleet and designating bus routes would ensure that this service solves the time inconsistency that the QLine and bus system present.  

References: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_Pm_XBsrP_Ydp8HlkmnnnanelzaVSSmG/view

https://www.detroittransit.org

http://www.rtamichigan.org/wp-content/uploads/FISCAL-YEAR-2020-Budget-Narrative-8.19.19.Public.pdf

https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2019/06/17/proposed-michigan-house-budget-slashes-public-transit

https://www.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2018/02/28/study-finds-detroit-drivers-pay-nations-highest-auto-insurance-premiums

https://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20111214/FREE/111219951/from-light-rail-to-rapid-buses-regional-leaders-try-to-catch-up-to-a

https://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20170907/news/638316/autonomous-vehicles-to-shuttle-bedrock-staff-in-downtown-detroit-pilot

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/12/03/regional-transit-funding-bill-hits-opposition/2594539001/

https://www.educationnext.org/going-extra-mile-school-choice-how-five-cities-tackle-challenges-student-transportation/

https://think313.org/future-detroit-streetcar-system/

https://think313.org/mayor-duggan-wants-qline-expansion/

These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.




 

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