Unlikely Trio Brings New Bill for Regional Transit Authority in Detroit, but Barriers Still Loom

RTA sponsors: Casperson, Johnson and Warren.
RTA sponsors: Casperson, Johnson and Warren.

A year after regional feuding stymied legislation for a Detroit metropolitan transit authority, Michigan Senators Tom Casperson, Bert Johnson, and Rebekah Warren are sponsoring a similar proposal once again. As transit advocates tire of repeating, metro Detroit is the biggest region in the country without such a body, a fact which has a lot to do with the appalling state of public transportation here. Senate Bills 443, 444 and 445 would change that.

The three senators’ districts and backgrounds could hardly be more different. Casperson is an anti-tax, anti-“radical environmental agenda” Upper Peninsula Republican,owner of a log trucking business and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Lead sponsor Johnson is an African-American Democrat from Highland Park who made headlines for fending off a pit bull attack while clearing his driveway this winter. Warren is a liberal Ann Arbor Democrat, former executive director of MARAL Pro-Choice Michigan. Of the three, only Johnson lives within the tri-county region which the transit authority would initially encompass. Last year, his hopes of a last-minute victory for a regional transit bill proved a bit too optimistic.

The support of Casperson, as Chairman, is a hopeful sign for the bill in GOP-controlled Lansing. So are Governor Snyder’s remarks in favor of a regional transit authority earlier this year. And yet, the failure of metro Detroit’s leaders to agree on a funding plan may still trump everything else. Although Detroit Mayor Bing’s proposed budget earlier this year entailed handing off Detroit bus service to a regional authority, Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson is far from sold on a deal. Would that metro Detroit leaders – especially the business community – united to push the proposal forward. Our region has been the laughingstock of the country for several decades too long.