By Matt Helms
Public-transportation advocates are pushing for a major win this year for improved bus service in metro Detroit as the city and suburban bus systems struggle through budget cuts.
Transit supporters are rallying behind a proposal by Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to create a regional network of rapid-transit buses along major routes such as Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot, connecting downtown Detroit to key suburbs, Metro Airport and Ann Arbor.
"We need quality transportation, and this bus rapid transit is that opportunity," said the Rev. Charles Williams II of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, who is president of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), a faith-based community group that has been active in regional transit issues.
MOSES and other supporters said at a news conference Thursday that they will press state lawmakers to get behind the plan for bus rapid transit, which Snyder and Bing proposed after pulling support for a $550-million light-rail line on Woodward from downtown to 8 Mile Road.
Snyder and transit supporters say that, for about the cost of the rail line, metro Detroit could build a wider system of rapid-transit buses that operate in their own lanes on 110 miles of major roadway, as a first step toward changing how the region operates and pays for public transportation.
Both DDOT and SMART have slashed bus routes and frequency in recent months, DDOT as Detroit moved to cut its annual $54-million transit subsidy and SMART as it dealt with a 12% drop in property tax revenue, which resulted in a $5-million hit to SMART's budget.
Snyder wants lawmakers to allow residents of metro Detroit to vote on a regional vehicle registration fee increase to pay for the bus rapid-transit system, which is part of a package of bills introduced in the Legislature this week that would set up a regional transit authority for metro Detroit and increase spending on road repairs.
This is in addition to the statewide proposed registration fee increase to support roads.
The Rev. John Hice of Royal Oak First United Methodist Church said the lack of adequate buses hurts the region's economy and people who rely on buses.
"Our current bus systems are so stressed by the lack of resources that few beyond those who depend on them ... venture to use them," he said.