Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Elected officials should ride public transit before making decisions


I am a supporter of an Oakland County (Michigan), county-wide solution for public transportation. Acquaintances have asked for my comments on the Board of Commissioners decision to recommend the status quo on this important legislation. The status quo allows individual communities to opt-out of public transportation causing gaps in service. Having read the newspaper articles in the aftermath of the committee’s tie vote I was struck by some recurring themes in the oppositions comments. For example, Commissioner Long of Commerce Township did not want to support a transit system that was broke. The comment prompted me to ponder the question, “How many of our elected officials making decisions about public transportation have actually travelled on a SMART bus recently?” I wonder, “How many of our elected officials have stopped at a bus stop to ask riders why they take the bus and how important the system is for their daily life?”

I have ridden the bus and interviewed the riders and have found the system works rather well. The system seems to work for the Commerce Township resident I interviewed who drives into West Bloomfield to catch the Orchard Lake Road SMART Express to his job in downtown Detroit. Sure there are improvements that need to be made but the only part of the system I find broken are the gaps in service caused by opt-out communities. The criticism reminds me of the Menendez brothers who murdered their parents then asked the court for leniency because they were orphans.

Apparently the Board of Commission's committee recommended accepting the administration’s position of status quo. County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s own Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson admitted that the current system would be broke several months after the August 2010 renewal. Commissioners Steven Schwartz (D) and David Potts (R) proposed a county-wide solution that would make SMART financially stable for the proposal’s three year span. How can our Board of Commissioners ask us to accept the status quo legislation that they know is doomed for failure?

I recently met a member of the Oakland County Public Transportation Authority who had never ridden a SMART fixed route bus and did not know the cost of riding a SMART bus. I took him on a field trip. We travelled on the Woodward Avenue SMART bus for coffee in Birmingham. I encourage the Board of Commissioners to do the same before making decisions about the system’s future. I would be more than happy to escort anyone who would like a similar field trip. Incidentally, we cannot launch our trip from the Oakland County Executive Office Building. Our own executive offices are in Waterford Township, an opt-out community and not serviced by public transportation. I will gladly show you the closest park-and-ride.