In a recent interview with the Detroit-based Michigan Citizen, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, who is running for Lieutenant Governor on Democrat Virg Bernero’s ticket, has called for rehabilitating southeastern Michigan’s bus network, emphasizing that it too must be part of the region’s transportation future.
“When you say mass transit, everyone thinks rapid transit and subways,” Lawrence told the Citizen‘s Zenobia Jeffries. “Mass transit is an efficient clean bus system that arrives on time…We need to step up to the plate and fix the bus system, make sure you can get to the suburbs and city without changing bus lines, and have a consistent level of service.”
In 2008, Lawrence challenged longtime Oakland County Executive and sprawl advocateL. Brooks Patterson on a platform that called for mass transit and regional cooperation. Lawrence’s support for seamless city-suburb bus service reads as an endorsement of a regional transit authority, which Patterson has long opposed.
Her bus endorsement is significant at a time when transit agencies like the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) have cut bus service, even as elected leaders like Mayor Bing herald the arrival of light rail.
Michigan needs rapid transit as well as a better local bus system. The Detroit metropolitan region is so vast that transit running in mixed traffic, whether buses or streetcars, are of limited usefulness. Strong local connectors will always be required, but only transit vehicles that run in their own right-of-way (a category that includes bus rapid transit as well as trains) can provide the faster long-distance service necessary to unite southeast Michigan.
Nonetheless, there is an obvious need to improve the region’s fragmentary and infrequent local bus system. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, people use the transit system you have, not the transit system you might want or wish to have at a later time. Lawrence is correct to emphasize that it should not be overlooked. At the same time, we need to work on making that future system a reality, too.