As we recently reported, legislation for a metro Detroit regional transit authority is tantalizingly close to a floor vote in the Michigan Senate. The transit bill has the support of the region’s entire public and private sector leadership, but on account of a Senate Republican caucus rule requiring a majority of the caucus to move legislation, it’s waiting on a handful of crucial legislators to move it to the floor. With that goal in mind, an array of suburban Detroit faith leaders convened by Trans4M member MOSES Michigan met with State Senator John Pappageorge (R-Troy) in an Oakland County deli yesterday, urging him to give the bill his unequivocal support.
“We ask you to care for the needs of our regional community,” said Reverend John Hice of Royal Oak’s First United Methodist Church, giving the meeting’s opening prayer. “We have a highway system that was laid out, in many ways, to divide us from one another,” noted Reverend John Miller of Royal Oak First Congregational, describing the direct damage that freeways dealt Detroit communities and the social costs of the sprawl they induced. A regional transit system, he said, would help to bring metropolitan Detroit back together, in fulfillment of the biblical directive to live in harmony with others.
Pat Hammer, who co-chairs MOSES’s Transportation Task Force, emphasized the irony in the fact that buses are forced to speed by her church without stopping, since the city of Bloomfield Hills does not participate in the region’s suburban transit system. When the church takes in homeless people, they have great difficulty getting to their jobs. Transit, Hammer said, was a “very essential element of an equitable society.”
Joining the clergy to make the business case for transit was Troy Chamber of Commerce President Michele Hodges, who spearheaded last year’s successful campaign for the Troy Transit Center. She noted that the bill had the support of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who’s not known for granting that lightly. 24-year-old Troy resident Donovan McCarty said he’d seen many of his friends move to other cities across the country that had better transit, and that the lack of it in metro Detroit was a significant barrier to drawing young people – such as McCarty’s girlfriend, currently of Chicago.
Josh Keagle, a local financial planner and Iraq veteran in the Navy Reserve, reminded Pappageorge of transit’s national security implications, given the U.S. dependence on imported oil to fuel the country’s cars. “Where did I buy gas from today to get to here?” he asked. “Iran. Venezuela…You know the geopolitical considerations.” (A Vietnam veteran, Pappageorge also served as a member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Council in the 1980s.)
Citing issues with the region’s existing transit providers, the Senator said he still could not give the regional transit bill his full support, but he affirmed the concept behind it. “The general perspective from everyone, including me, is we need an RTA [regional transit authority],” he said, acknowledging that “it’s really dumb that someone going to Bloomfield Hills has to jump off a moving bus.” He also said he would not stand in the way of a regional transit authority if his colleagues in the Senate were moved to support it. “If I’m the deciding vote,” he said, “I’m with you.”
That commitment did not leave the group entirely satisfied. But the meeting closed with a prayer and their renewed resolve to press the case for transit before the crucial window of the Michigan Legislature’s lame-duck session. As Troy business owner Dave Zuza emphasized, “We’ve waited forty years. There is tremendous urgency right now to get this done.”