Proposal 1 is dead, but the transportation funding question remains

By now you’ve no doubt heard all about the fall of Tuesday’s Proposal 1 vote. The proposed change to funding Michigan’s transportation system lost with a dramatic 4-1 ratio. Throughout the state voters expressed anger over Proposal 1, from frustration over the complexity of the attached 10 bills, to hostility towards the Legislature for not resolving the need for additional transportation funding on their own. Whomever you spoke to, the major takeaway remained the same: It’s now time for our elected officials to step up and find money for our ailing transportation system.

The Safe Roads Yes bus campaigns across Michigan in advance of the May 5 vote.

The Safe Roads Yes bus campaigns across Michigan in advance of the May 5 vote.

Though this message is clear, the next steps are a little murkier.  legislators have begun on Plan B, but there is no consensus on what that will look like.  While some, like Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) propose diverting funds from other sources to come up with the estimated $1.2 billion needed, others such as Reps. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) propose cuts as high as 10% to all state spending with savings funneled into the transportation fund.

Concerns around these types of proposals center on the already tight state budget. According to the Citizens Research Council, of the approximately $52 billion spent by the state annually, only 8% (4.3 billion) is actually discretionary and available to be spent on emerging issues, such as transportation. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that this year the state will raise approximately $9.6 billion for the General Fund, the fund that has previously been tapped for transportation dollars and continues to be the target of proposed redistribution of existing funds. The majority of General Fund expenditures currently go to Medicaid, Human Services, Education, and Corrections with a small percentage being used in recent years to help match federal funds for transportation projects. To continue to divert money from this fund “means robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Craig Thiel of the Citizens Research Council.

Michigan citizens don’t want to see cuts to these services either. A statewide poll conducted by EPIC-MRA immediately before the election found strong opposition to cuts in major services in order to pay for road repairs: 88% oppose cuts to K-12 education, 86% oppose cuts to healthcare/Medicaid and 76% oppose cuts to local government budgets.

The Legislature then faces the dilemma of how to secure new funds for transportation that doesn’t bleed these other services. Two proposals that would raise the gasoline tax emerged during the 2014 legislative session by both the House and Senate, but could not be sold in the chambers of their legislative counterparts.  As legislators brainstorm around next steps, they may return to both of these plans as a starting point. The House (aka the ‘Bolger Plan’) and the Senate each took a very different approach to several issues that will need to be reconsidered, including: how much total money to raise for transportation, the balance between creating new revenue by increasing the fuel tax and redirecting existing revenue, and how quickly to phase in the changes. The Citizens Research Council illustrates how much money each of these original proposals would have brought in for transportation and the timeline for full implementation.

Capture

If the Legislature returns to either of these plans now, Michigan would potentially not see a significant increase in transportation funding for several years, especially since implementation would now begin later in 2015 or perhaps later. This, of course, assumes that the Legislature would even reconsider raising taxes for an increase in state transportation funding, which many legislators have already come out solidly against including Democrats fearing for a regressive tax against low income households. Despite the results at the ballot, Michiganders polled in the April EPIC-MRA poll favored (67%) a 1 cent increase in sales tax, as long as all of that revenue went to transportation.

In lieu of any solid state wide solution, local solutions are finding support. On May 5, local millages in multiple communities in western Michigan passed to provide funding for road repairs, including a 2 mill increase in East Grand Rapids for local road and sidewalk repairs, a renewal of a 5 mill in Salem Township, 3 mill in Albion city and 1 mill in Hamilton township for local roads. Regional solutions are also being explored to attempt to bring in additional funds to repair roads.

For many Trans4M member groups, one pivotal question will reemerge as the state considers a replacement for Proposal 1: Will any new revenue for transportation be distributed to the full system, including transit, rail, and nonmotorized options? Fortunately, support for all transportation options continues to be found in the actions and voices of many Michigan residents. “In the wake of a historic loss, people were NOT saying no to transit” says Dusty Fancher of Midwest Strategy Group. She points to the passing of all three transit millages on Tuesday’s ballot, including the ITC (Iosco Transit Corporation) millage renewal (passed by 62%), the North Oakland new millage (passed by 18 votes) and the Van Buren County millage (passed by 56%).

#TransitMatters 95 Million Trips

Furthermore, Michiganders overall support funding our complete transportation system according to the April EPIC-MRA poll. 64% responded that they support the continuation of revenue collected for the Public Act 51 to be distributed to all transportation infrastructure, including transit, dial-a-ride, harbors, rail and biking/hiking trails. Any proposed legislation that increases funding for transportation needs to maintain allocation for these desired services and infrastructure. Trans4M member group Transportation Riders United (TRU) is encouraging all of us to speak to our legislators about the value of transit funding for the state. “As the road funding debate rages on at the Capitol and throughout the state, transit advocates will need to stand strong and make a powerful case that transit cannot be cut in the effort to increase road funding,” says Megan Owens, TRU Executive Director in an online statement. “Please seize any opportunity to tell your state legislators that we need a transportation funding fix that includes transit and doesn’t gut essential state service!”

The fight for transportation funding continues. Though many advocates are encouraging the Legislature to remain in Lansing this summer until a solution is passed, it is unclear whether they will do so or break for summer in mid-June as planned. In the meantime, Trans4M member groups will continue to speak to our elected officials about the value of our complete transportation system and the dire need to increase state funding to support our failing infrastructure.

Written by Laurel Burchfield, Trans4M Coordinator

Guest Blog: Crowd-fueled Train Campaign

The following guest post was written by James Bruckbauer, the Transportation Policy Specialist for Michigan Land Use Institute. This is the third blog of our Trans4M Technology and Transportation Series, it reveals how modern technology can be used to generate revenue for transportation projects.

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The work to bring passenger rail to Traverse City is off to a good start thanks to modern technology. Last month, the Michigan Land Use Institute raised almost $19,000 in just two weeks through “crowdfunding”—raising donations from like-minded supporters of a cause.

Crowdfunding could help other transit advocacy campaigns, too. In fact, organizers of another promising transit campaign, 15 Minutes or Better, are looking to the crowd for support, and need your help now.

Last February, Patagonia and Moosejaw handpicked MLUI’s A2TC campaign—a 10-year effort to revive passenger rail between Ann Arbor and Traverse City—to compete against nine other causes nationwide in a crowdfunding fundraising contest via Crowdrise. The winner of the contest would receive an extra $5,000 from Patagonia.A2TC-Rail-Map New
MLUI planned on using crowdfunding at some point during this project, so when this opportunity came up, we couldn’t say no. We jumped right in.

To get the word out, we used Facebook and Twitter, and sent emails to both MLUI followers and rail followers. We also asked our network of partners, particuarly the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, to promote the campaign to their followers. Some news outlets interested in the rail project reached out to us to promote the effort.

We also asked quite a few of supporters to jump in at the last minute with a larger donations to push us to the top spot. That was crucial. Within the last hour of the campaign, popular Traverse City organic grocer Oryana Natural Foods Market chipped in with a major donation to put us in the lead.

We won. After two weeks, our cause raised $13,650, taking the No. 1 spot by less than $200. Patagonia chipped in another $5,000.

The money raised will allow us to develop better campaign materials, begin reaching out the communities along the rail line, and use videos to describe the impact rail travel could have on Michigan and mid-Michigan downtowns.

Our short-term goal is to build support among the general public as well as government and business leaders in the cities between Traverse City and Ann Arbor—Kingsley, Cadillac, Mt. Pleasant, Alma, Durand, and Owosso—through a focused campaign that will include writing, public engagement, and potential “demonstration” trains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crowdfunding can be a good way to demonstrate support for a project. Since people can chip in as little as five bucks with relative ease, you can reach quite a few individual donors who want a direct connection to a project without necessarily hurting their pocketbooks. Those who donate usually feel connected to the project and are likely to help out in the future.

If your cause has a supporter out there who will “match” contributions, then there’s a strong incentive for other individual donors to give. In our case, Patagonia and Moosejaw were the matching sources.

There are only a few days left to support another important transit campaign. Freshwater Transit is asking for support for their 15 Minutes or Better video campaign, which is intended to describe to Metro Detroiters what “effective” transit looks like. The organizers will travel to large metro areas to illustrate the difference between great bus and rail networks and difficult ones.

So far they’ve raised just over $10,000 and there are a few days left to help out.

Crowdfunding is sure to have a big impact on transit advocacy campaigns in Michigan. Trans4M will keep you updated on these exciting projects.

Technology, Tourism, and Nonmotorized Transportation

Google and Pure Michigan teamed up to produce 44,000 panoramic shots of Michigan’s premiere natural, landmark, and historic destinations. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley excitedly introduced the initiative at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism. “[It] opens up all Michigan has to offer to the rest of the world,” Calley told the Free Press. The results utilize and present Michigan’s offering of non-motorized transportation options. Michigan’s tourism industry is largely fueled by bicycling, walking, and canoeing.

Google transformed Street View cameras into the Google Trekker, a 40-pound version fit to a hiking backpack instead of an automobile. The new incarnation allows adventurous volunteers to map out areas unreachable by the traditional car system. It provides a worldwide interactive gateway to famous locations, including the Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal, Great Pyramids, and the Galapagos Islands. Michigan is the first Midwestern location mapped by Trekker. Over 43 Michigan locations have been mapped, including the State Capitol, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Mackinac Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes and various water and land trails.

Google Trekker captures the action at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Google Trekker captures the action at Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Much of Michigan’s attraction is in the natural beauty of the state, much of which cannot be traveled by the traditional Google street view camera, which is attached to the top of an automobile. Google Trekker communicates through the power of images, including unique views from the top of the Mackinac Bridge. This opens up new possibilities for a national and international audience to experience the authentic setting on historic, car-free Mackinac Island. Not to mention that Michigan contains thousands of miles of non-motorized trails, a portion of which can now be explored remotely. Volunteers also paddled their way down miles of river trails. Views of the Detroit Riverwalk help showcase the walkability of urban Detroit. Social media has already provided a powerful platform for the Pure Michigan campaign, as people share images of the state that can reach around the world– just search #puremichigan on instagram and you’ll know what we mean–but Google Trekker adds an interactive dimension.

The Mackinac Bridge at sunset.

The Mackinac Bridge at sunset epitomizes Pure Michigan’s breathtaking beauty.

Tourism is a powerful driver of economic development for the state. In 2014 113.4 million out-of-state visitors spent $22.8 billion in Michigan and the Pure Michigan campaign generated $6.87 for every dollar spent. Tourism spending directly supported 214,333 jobs. Gov. Snyder sees the tourism industry as a “strong pillar in our state’s economic foundation” that can “showcase all our state has to offer to a national and global audience, fuel new growth, and create new jobs.” International visitors contributed a notable 6.1% to tourism sales last year, and offers a potential for future growth.

The potential reach of the Pure Michigan campaign through the internet is immense, and can reach these growing numbers of international visitors. “The Pure Michigan campaign has elevated Michigan as a national travel destination, and we are taking that one step further by having these images globally accessible on Google Maps,” the lieutenant governor told Metro Times, “This initiative combines our natural beauty with innovative technology in a way that really speaks to all that Michigan has to offer visitors, residents, and businesses alike.” Google has successfully utilized nonmotorized transportation to engage and showcase the state’s walkability and myriad of other recreational opportunities.

Discover the walkability of Urban Detroit's Downtown RiverWalk via Google Trekker.

Discover the walkability of Urban Detroit’s Downtown RiverWalk via Google Trekker.

Visit the Pure Michigan website to experience all destinations.

Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Fellow

Transportation in the Palm of your Hand

Transit, bikes, scooters, you name it; there’s an app for it. Thanks to smartphones, we have entered a new era of technologically enhanced public transportation. Today, there are a variety of multimodal apps helping connect users to various modes of transportation. These apps simplify our lives by taking the guessing game out of public transportation. According to a 2011 study, real-time information apps reduce anxiety over taking public transportation, reduce both perceived and actual wait times, allow passengers to pay with their smartphone and give passengers a stronger sense of freedom. Unfortunately, the majority of transportation apps tend to concentrate on urban areas and university towns, but expansion is on the horizon due to these apps’ growing demand and profitability.

Beyond assisting the user, these apps are critical in the creation of a unified multimodal transit network. Multi-modal apps knit the transportation landscape together by allowing users to see side-by side comparisons of a variety of routes and services for making their trip. They fill in the gaps of the system by showing all the options available, even if that means hoping on a bike to take to the bus to the train. Detroit has been highly criticized for the gaps in its transit system left by the two separate transit agencies of DDOT and SMART. Multi-modal apps are a great asset in bringing together the different agencies and systems, like DDOT and SMART, under one umbrella.

Amtrak rider uses their smartphone to show their ticket.

Amtrak rider uses their smartphone to show their ticket.

Additionally, the Regional Transit Authority is looking to create a unified fare card to make the transfer from DDOT buses and SMART buses easier. The idea is to use “the latest technological advances such as swipeless cards or a smartphone” to switch from train to bus or bus to bus. This way the entire system can be paid for on your smartphone, making transitions from one system to another seamless.

At Trans4M we are all about simplifying transportation for the average user, whether that means creating goofy graphics or informative videos. Below we have compiled a list of a few helpful transit apps you can use to help simplify public transportation.

Transit App: This free global app provides information on cities around the world. So far transit service in Detroit (DDOT), Grand Rapids (The Rapid), and Ann Arbor (The Ride) are included in the app. While this app does not cover the entirety of Michigan’s transit services there is a chance for expansion. Users have the ability to go to the Transit App website and enter a city or service they wish to have transportation information for. Other users vote for the suggested regions, and if a region gets enough votes it could become the newest area covered in the Transit App.

Moovit: Similar to the Transit App, Moovit covers cities from around the world. Here in Michigan that includes the cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor. The free app gives commuters step by step directions to get around by train, light rail, bus, and other public transportation methods. Don’t have a smartphone? You can still use Moovit; just visit the Moovit website on a computer to map out your travel plans online. Since Moovit is updated with information posted by the individual riders, you are able to notify and get notified by other riders of delays, overcrowding, or other problems on certain routes.

RideScout: This multi-modal app covers Ann Arbor and Detroit. In Ann Arbor it includes Amtrak, Curb, and The Ride. In Detroit it includes DDOT, Zipcar, Amtrak, and more. Ridescout provides all transit, bus, bike, taxi, car share, rideshare, parking and walking directions in one view, honing in on the multi-modal trip trend. Increasingly, people (notably, Millennials) want many options to get from one place to another. For example, if your daily commute includes traveling to a commuter train or express bus stop, you might sometimes want to walk, take a connecting bus line, or drive your personal car and park. Your modal choice will likely depend on the weather, time of day, reason for travel or a variety of other variables. Apps like RideScout bring all of those options together for a seamless interchange between modes.  Like Moovit, the app is open to suggestions on areas it should expand to cover through its online website.

Ridescout App

RideScout App

Google Maps: Google Maps is probably the most useful app when it comes to public transportation systems in Michigan communities. If you don’t live in the cities the Transit App, Moovit App, or Ridescout cover, Google Maps provides information for almost all of the fixed-route public transit services in Michigan. While it may not be as interactive and informative as the Transit, Moovit, and Ridescout apps, it is extremely user friendly and many smartphones come equipped with the app that is popular for GPS assistance. Google Maps allows you to choose between different modes of transportation including train, bus, biking, and walking and is frequently updated to incorporate service changes.

Google Maps App

Google Maps App

Bike Sharing Apps: For the biking enthusiasts out there, or just someone looking for a physically active commute, there are a few apps to enhance your travels. Bicyclette and Spotcycle are among the most popular bike sharing apps on the market. Unfortunately, these apps do not include Michigan cities yet, but are great to use in bigger cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and even Paris. Get information on the location of stations, pricing, and open spaces to return bikes to.

These are only a few of the many apps to help connect people to a variety of transportation options. In the years to come we can expect an even greater number of the apps to appear on the market. For example, in San Francisco there are Scoot Networks that provide riders with access to a network of electric scooters to use for running errands or just riding around town. The possibilities for innovative transportation are bright and limitless!

We’d love to hear about your experiences! Do you use any transit or multi-modal transportation apps to help you navigate your trips? Which ones are your favorite and what do you like about them?

 

Written by Hannah Lensing, Trans4M Fellow

Legislature Considers Statewide Regulations for Rideshare Companies in Michigan

Featured Image of the signature Lyft car pink moustache from Wired

As popular rideshare companies, Uber and Lyft, seek to expand service in Michigan, new legislation seeks to regulate safety issues for users. Uber and Lyft give a  “21st century makeover” to the traditional concept of ridesharing through the use of a smartphone app that puts services at the user’s fingertips. Although similar to a taxi or limousine service, this particular incarnation of ridesharing is so new it lacks the type of regulation that those other industries face.

From Fix.com, "Catching a Lyft," written by Zachary Shahan.

From Fix.com, “Catching a Lyft,” written by Zachary Shahan.

Recently introduced bills would create regulations that will help guarantee safety for service users through insurance, licensing regulations, and regular safety inspection checks.

  • House Bill 4032 (supported by Uber) would create a new act to regulate transportation network companies (TNC). Requirements would include proof of insurance, vehicle safety inspections, background checks for drivers, and display of a company emblem on vehicles, among other things.
  • Senate Bill 184 (supported by MDOT) would regulate companies under the existing Limousine Act. It would create regulations that apply to every individual driver (not the TNCs themselves), including proof of commercial insurance coverage, safety inspections, and background checks.
  • Senate Bill 188 is very similar to SB 184; however, it would create a new article within the existing Limousine Act directed specifically at TNCs.

State Representative Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw) introduced House Bill 5951 last November, it failed to pass the House last session but he promptly reintroduced the legislation in the current session as HB 4032. Kelly stated that although the bill “challenges traditional constructs” of transportation legislation, Uber and Lyft “are going to operate regardless of what we do. We’ve got to do the best we can to catch up.” Uber already has in place most of the requirements that HB 4032 would implement.

Opponents of the bill last year argued that control of these companies should be left up to local jurisdictions. Lansing and East Lansing recently joined together to form the Greater Lansing Taxi Authority to regulate taxi companies in addition to Uber and Lyft, which they classify as TNCs. Kelly argued against the “patchwork” of laws, which could pose problems for longer trips that span multiple jurisdictions all with different laws regarding TNCs. Although innovative regional solutions are an option, they lack the stability of an overarching statewide regulation.

Debates at the end of the last legislative session centered on legislative gray areas regarding insurance policies. Under HB 4032, insurance must cover drivers whenever they are logged into the company’s digital interface and accepting requests for rides. A chauffeur’s license and commercial vehicle registration are only required if a vehicle can carry between 9 to 15 people. The bill also requires display of signage while a driver is providing service.

In addition to Detroit where it first launched operations in March 2013, Uber currently operates in Ann Arbor, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing. Representative Kelly recognizes that operations are inevitable, stating “quite frankly, they’re already operating in your town or your city and they’re not going to stop, to be honest. So, I’d rather have them in the tent under some form of regulation than out of the tent.”

Although Lansing and East Lansing welcomed Uber with an operating agreement, the City of Ann Arbor initially sent a cease and desist letter to both Uber and Lyft. Paige Thelen, spokesperson for Lyft, told the Ann Arbor News “We take the cease-and-desist letter as an opportunity to open a conversation with Ann Arbor leaders and we look forward to working together toward a permanent solution that focuses on public safety and allows ridesharing to thrive.” Similarly, Uber chose to continue services while working towards an operating agreement with the City.

Despite some minor setbacks throughout the state, the benefits to this new type of ridesharing are immense, including ease of access, affordability, and attraction to millennials. Lifestyle blog Fix.com featured a blog post on the ridesharing phenomenon, concluding that “car-sharing and novo ridesharing services make living without a car more convenient, which enables and encourages people to give up their cars and drive less.” Technology has allowed these companies to grow rapidly, and offer a number of user-friendly innovations. Wait times are often significantly less than that of a traditional taxi, and often for significantly less cost. Payment is simplified as Uber charges the user’s credit card upon completion of the trip, with tip included, so there is no need to deal with the hassle of cash or credit payment on arrival.

A screenshot of the Uber app at work.

A screenshot of the Uber app at work.

Uber and Lyft are making revolutionary waves in ridesharing and transportation technology. Legislation recognizing that Uber and Lyft are different from traditional taxi companies, help make it so “more drivers than ever can offer rides to people in need” with all the added benefits described above. In fact, according to a study of 20 large metropolitan areas by the American Public Transit Association, the average car owner could save over $10,000 a year by utilizing alternative forms of transportation. Uber and Lyft have an established presence in Michigan, future statewide regulations will affect how these companies continue to operate.

 

Written by: Elle Getschman, Trans4M Fellow

Note: Senate Bills 184 and 188 are on the agenda for the Senate Regulatory Reforms committee meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, March 26 at 12:00 PM.

 

Public Transit: A Vital Component to All Kinds of Communities

When the average person thinks about public transit, their mind usually envisions the New York subway system or Chicago’s “L.” Transit services see the highest ridership and farebox  in high density urban areas where the community demands a high level of service and there is a high portion of “choice” riders. These are the areas where high population, walkable urban development, and a community’s entrenched transportation culture easily sustains robust transit services: think the New York City subway, or the Metro in Washington D.C. No one is likely to complain about funding these reliable and established services because users demand the service and they have the resources to pay for it.

Lower density suburban and rural areas need these transit services just as much, and should not be denied access to transportation because of lower farebox revenues. Certain segments of the population, including the elderly, individuals with disabilities, or those without access to a car, depend on transit services especially in these areas where travel to  places like work, medical appointments or grocery stores are impossible without some kind of vehicle.

Dial-a-ride Services in Midland help provide transit services to vital populations in a lower density area.

Dial-a-ride Services in Midland help provide transit services to vital populations in lower density areas. Photo Courtesy of City of Midland.

Urban residents heavily depend on transit to avoid the hassles of having a car in the city, including heavy traffic and premium parking fees. New York City’s 18.6 million residents each take 229.8 trips per year. The San Francisco Bay Area has a population of 3.4 million with 131.5 trips per capita, and Washington, D.C. has a population of 4.7 million with 99.6 trips per resident. University towns, with clusters of students, and walkable neighborhoods, demand and justify transit systems, often with the help of University funds.

Those who argue against increased transit funding or service levels often think in abstract concepts of efficiency and performance measures. Analysis by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California Berkeley found that increasing urban densities will place public transit on firmer financial footing. These statistics do not concern themselves with the individuals who need to use the transit and why they need the service.

Individual experiences and needs offer a full picture of equity in public transportation that helps to fully justify services outside of these densities. The recent media buzz surrounding James Robertson, the Detroit man who walked 21 miles to work in Rochester Hills everyday, associated a face with the poor condition of public transit services in metro Detroit. Compassionate individuals offered help to Robertson, what about others like him who need to reach important employment opportunities?

Affordable and accessible transportation infrastructure in the suburbs can help the increasing number living below the poverty line in these areas. The Atlantic cites that the number of suburban poor surpassed the number of poor in the cities in the 2000s and by 2011, almost 16.4 million in the suburbs lived below the poverty line. The sprawling suburban landscape creates a heavy disadvantage for those without a car, especially those who need to travel to find or hold employment (like Robertson).

Dial-a-ride services are an important alternative in these lower density areas. Although high costs are a deterrent to extensive usage, those with disabilities, veterans, or the elderly receive reduced rates. High rates will also keep low income residents from using the service. A recent Pacific-Standard article mentions that while programs exist to help low income individuals or families buy groceries, pay rent, or get access to healthcare, there are no programs that help pay gas, train, or bus fare.

Elderly Mobility

A car may provide mobility for one person, but transit creates access to opportunity for all residents. In Michigan, all 83 counties have some form of public transit.. Transit provides vital benefits in low density suburban and rural areas. Even though fares will never (nor do they anywhere in the world) fully cover the operational costs, these services provide lifelines to the elderly, those with physical or mental disabilities, and those who just can’t afford to own a personal vehicle.

 

Written by Hannah Lensing and Elle Getschman

Photo Credit

The 30 Year Plan: Mapping out Michigan and the Nation’s Future

The USDOT and the Obama administration are drawing much needed attention to the future of national transportation funding and policy. Here at Trans4M, we are usually transfixed on what’s going on at the local and state level, but today we are going to take a look at the broader picture, to investigate how transportation policy at the federal level connects to us here at home.

The USDOT’s strategic 30 year transportation plan will attempt to redress the tendency of lawmakers to focus on finding short term answers to looming funding crises, while newly proposed legislation from the White House would secure funding over the next six years. Congress voted in August to transfer funds into the nearly insolvent Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the most recent in a series of last minute transfers. As we examined in a previous blog post, the uncertainty of future funding negatively impacts local and state transportation and road projects, which are planned and allocated for years in advance.

US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx

US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx

The 30 year plan seeks to address what Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sees as an unfortunate rift in funding and policy goals. Foxx told Politico, “The goal here isn’t to be descriptive. The goal here is to set a context and to frame the choices.” The conversation on transportation funding should include more than just how to get funding, but how that funding can be spent effectively. Performance measures, in conjunction with a long range plan, can help demonstrate the effectiveness of funds in the context of long term improvements. At the state level here in Michigan, MDOT’s long term plan and accompanying measures show progress toward long term goals, including safety, security, effective and efficient operations. A federal level long range plan can bridge this disconnect with state agencies, and help to reduce uncertainty in the state level planning.

Planning will help address multiple factors that stress our current infrastructure. One factor is population, which is set to grow by 70 million over the next 30 years, mostly in the South and West. At the same time the Northeast and Midwest simultaneously need greater investment in transportation to curb the negative effects of aging infrastructure. The increasing number of people choosing to live in urban cores over the suburban fringes are driving a movement for more and better pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure. Foxx refers to these individuals, many of them millennials, as potential “game changers” in how we perceive our transportation infrastructure.

Google Self Driving Car

Google Self Driving Car

Major technological changes on the near horizon will also factor into transportation trends over the next 30 years. The potential for autonomous cars, being studied right here in Ann Arbor, could have a major effect on the future design of transportation infrastructure. National and global trends indicate future strain on our current freight network, while shipments are only expected to increase as more people increasingly choose to shop online. Investment in adequate infrastructure to move goods is key to our health as a nation, and our competitiveness in a global economy.

In addition to planning how to spend funds, the Obama administration’s newly proposed legislation, the Grow America Act, will fund roads and transit for the next six years according to goals outlined by the 30 year plan. The proposed act will provide States and local governments with the certainty needed to effectively plan and start construction on projects that will support millions of jobs over the next several years. A recent Transportation for America blog post addresses this nexus of federal and state level funding “aimed at fixing a local street network for the sake of a key economic corridor.” State transportation infrastructure acts as the building blocks of the federal network. The two levels are codependent, and with the current stress on funds the entire network is likely to suffer and deteriorate.

These new initiatives offer an increased federal level commitment to transportation funding. President Obama’s proposed budget attempts to further pursue and prioritize transportation by a proposed 31 percent boost in spending for the upcoming fiscal year, an overall $478 billion over the course of the next 6 years, including a 75 percent increase for mass transit. When the federal government makes a commitment to transportation funding, and plans to spend smartly, the State of Michigan, as well as all others, will benefit greatly from increased certainty in planning and funding state infrastructure. These recent federal initiatives will help to close the rift with State level planning and goal setting, and help to meet the future challenges that transportation funding will face.

Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Fellow

May Ballot Sets Precedent for Michigan’s Future

Michigan’s need for transportation funding looms over the state like a persistent cold that will not go away until addressed properly. While extensive Emergen-C and chicken noodle soup will not fix Michigan’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, the funding from the comprehensive bill package on the ballot in May has the ingredients to potentially alleviate many of Michigan’s ailments, and you have an opportunity to influence this decisive vote.

More than just transportation hinges upon the outcome of the vote in May. The ballot proposal will be “the lens through which everything gets done in the first six months,” said former Senate majority leader Ken Sikkema. “It has so many implications in it that are budgetary implications.” The $54 billion budget Gov. Snyder proposed on Wednesday only allocates $113 million from the general fund for spending on roads and transportation—down from $285 million in the current fiscal year and $451 million in 2014. With such low spending on transportation, the budget “does not provide much of a backup plan if the ballot proposal fails,” MLive reported. Without the additional revenue from the transportation package on top of the budget proposal, Michigan’s transportation system will struggle to operate. If the package does not pass, it’s back to the drawing board for legislators.

It is also important to note that funding for public education and for municipalities also hinges upon the vote in May. House Fiscal Agency analyzed the package and determined $300 million would go towards boosting public school funding, which Gov. Snyder has been pushing for throughout this year. Cities, villages, and townships would receive a much-needed additional $95 million in revenue-sharing payments. The decline in shared revenues has caused many municipalities to make cuts to beneficial personnel and service provision in their jurisdictions.

Should the proposal fail, it is important to realize there will be new faces in the mix. Central to the advancement of new transportation bills in the upcoming year are the newly appointed Senate and House Transportation Committee members, who are being briefed by experts on the current state of Michigan’s transportation funding status. They come into office with different backgrounds and outlooks on Michigan’s transportation issues. Here is a glimpse at the members and their voting records on the transportation funding package.

 

Senate Transportation Committee

Name Party District Hometown Voting Record on Package

Additional Info

Casperson (Chair) R 38th Escanaba YEA Helped establish SE Michigan Regional Transit Authority.
Horn (Vice Chair) R 32nd Frankenmuth N/A Served previously on the Committee of Courts and Public Safety. First-term Senator.
Pavlov R 25th Saint Clair NAY Owned and operated Dexter Equipment Company, which specialized in medium to heavy duty truck sales and heavy equipment repair.
Marleau R 12th Lake Orion NAY Founding board member of the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA).
Hopgood (Minority Vice Chair) D 6th Taylor YEA Major focuses are education, energy and technology and environmental issues.

 

House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee

Name Party District Hometown Voting Record on Package Additional Info
Pettalia (Chair) R 106th Presque Isle YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Glardon (Vice Chair) R 85th Owosso YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Cole R 105th Mancelona N/A First-term Representative.
Farrington R 30th Utica YEA Introduced 2012 HB 5464 with revised language to say a highway must be “reasonably safe and convenient for VEHICULAR travel” rather than “public travel.”
Goike R 33rd Ray Township NAY Owner of Goike Trucking and Excavating.
Jacobsen R 46th Oxford YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. Strong focus on making roads safe for all users but does not want to increase taxation to do so.
Lauwers R 81st Brockway YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Maturen R 63rd Vicksburg N/A First-term Representative. Serves as the chair of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners.
Yonker R 72nd Caledonia YEA Degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources. Focus on strong economy.
McCready R 40th Bloomfield Hills YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Lane (Minority Vice Chair) D 31st Fraser YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee as Minority Vice Chair.
Cochran D 67th Mason YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Dianda D 110th Calumet NAY Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Neeley D 34th Flint N/A First-term Representative. From Flint and served previously on the Flint City Council.
Rutledge D 54th Ypsilanti YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.
Smiley D 50th Burton YEA Previously served on the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.

Although much of the allocated transportation funding from the budget will go toward preservation of current infrastructure, there will also be some new projects. MDOT acutely feels the pressure of the instability of yearly transportation funds, so planning for long term projects poses potential budget challenges. For example, MDOT received more than $50 million in discretionary bus and bus facility funding in 2012, while in 2013 that funding was reduced to less than $5 million. The year-to-year fluctuation is so great that planning for future long term projects becomes increasingly difficult and only the most pressing projects are prioritized.

With the proposal on the May ballot, the public is in a unique position to determine the outcome of the package. Is the proposal worth supporting? Gov. Snyder thinks so, he stated in his 2015 State of the State Address, “Now we need to ask our citizens to support that effort in May on the ballot. In the end what I need you to do is vote yes. Vote yes, so we can have safer roads. Vote yes so we can get rid of the crackling bridges and crumbling roads. Vote yes so we can have stronger schools and local government. Vote yes so we can have tax relief for the lower income people. There are only good reasons to vote yes.”

Know it when you see it! Here is the proposal language as it will appear on the ballot, may be subject to change:
Ballot 1

Written by Hannah Lensing, Trans4M Fall Fellow

Feature image found here.

Winter Walkability through Community Based Snow Removal

As we slog through another Michigan winter, transit agencies are calling for community-wide aide to ensure that all stops remain clear of snow and ice.  We have already witnessed a few heavy snow storms that have proven a barrier to all forms of transportation. Marquette and Grand Rapids both had their snowiest Novembers on record, with 53 inches and 31 inches respectively. Those totals signaled merely the start of the winter season! Although most of us fight and trudge our way through knee deep snow when we have to, clear sidewalks are especially important for certain segments of the transit using population who are unable to drive due to age or disability.

For some of these larger transit agencies, snowfall means heavy increases to basic operational costs. According to CATA’s website, Lansing alone incurred nearly $43,000 in costs to maintain public bus stops between October 1, 2013 and March 19, 2014. CATA has more than 30 fixed routes and has seen consistently increased ridership since initial operations in 1972. The larger the service area, the harder it is to ensure that all stops are equally well-maintained.

Downtown Lansing CATA Bus Stop lightly dusted with snow

Downtown Lansing CATA Bus Stop lightly dusted with snow

Dependence on easy, reliable access to transit doesn’t stop just because of the weather. Many use public transit everyday, from important doctor’s appointments to basic grocery shopping trips. When the snow flies, transit agencies–especially larger ones with widespread stops–face an increased burden to fully clear every stop. Individuals can take action to ease the burden and improve the quality of winter transportation for everyone in the community.

When a stop is unreachable, seniors and people with disabilities–those who need the bus most on a daily basis– face additional obstacles. When a stop is unclear, riders are encouraged to wait at the nearest cleared zone and flag down the bus when it comes by. Those who use wheelchairs are less likely to be able to reach another area or to successfully garner the attention of the bus driver to stop. Snow can block access to valuable areas of shelter at official transit stops as well. Shelters provide necessary protection from fierce winds and extremely cold temperatures for all transit users.

Volunteer efforts at snow removal can be extremely effective, but face the danger of unreliability. The more individuals who contribute their time and abilities, the more reliable these programs prove. The Grandville Snow Angels are an organized effort of volunteers in the Grand Rapids area who keep bus stops clear throughout the winter. The group is coordinated in part with help from The Rapid Transit Authority, Grandville Mayor Steve Maas, and Trans4M member group Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC). A little bit of extra effort from one person can make a big difference in mobility for those who use a wheelchair, or even just a student walking to class daily. With the recent spate of snowstorms, Kent County Emergency Management is renewing the call for Snow Angels to keep all public areas clear and free of snow. To be a Snow Angel one needs just to head outside and contribute to the effort!

A young Grandville Snow Angel clears a stop after school

A young Grandville Snow Angel clears a stop after school. Photo courtesy of Grandville Mayor Steven Maas via the Grandville Snow Angel Facebook.

Similar to transit agencies, municipalities responsible for snow removal rely on the community to ensure removal in a timely fashion. Traverse City created a public service announcement reminding residents it is local law to keep sidewalks adjacent to their property clear. The City’s reminder encourages a group effort: “Let’s make Traverse City safe and accessible for everyone!” Quoted by the Disability Network of Northern Michigan, City Manager Jered Ottenwess asserts: “Almost all of us travel by foot for a portion of our daily trips. As a community, particularly when we have a winter like we had last year, we need to work together to keep those sidewalks and crosswalks clear to help us all get around.”

A larger community effort can make a big difference in the lives of those who depend on reliable public transit. Similarly community based action, such as that facilitated by Traverse City, decreases the burden of snowfall on community walkability. The action of one individual can make a big difference for the community at large. So pick up a shovel this winter and act as a Snow Angel or Buddy.

Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Fall Fellow and Alex Gravlin, Trans4M Intern

2014 Year In Review Part II: Michigan Transportation Innovations

It’s been a fast-paced year for transportation policy and initiatives in 2014! As we look back on everything that has happened in Michigan, we’re proud to see Trans4M member groups leading the charge for a stronger, more vibrant transportation system for our state. Part I of our Year In Review series reviews our efforts in the fight for our state transportation funding and Part II takes a look at all the exciting and innovative transportation projects happening around the state.

Transportation Odyssey

T4M_OdysseyLogo (1) (1)The Transportation Odyssey is our biggest and most recognized event, and this year we shook it up a bit! Trans4M member groups traveled on our 3rd annual Transportation Odyssey on October 7-8. We visited six Michigan cities and towns to highlight good street design that promotes accessible, safe, and economically vibrant communities. Along the way we learned firsthand the value and challenges of good street design from city planners and engineers, locally elected officials, business owners, and others.

The Odyssey is our way of telling a different story each year regarding Michigan Transportation. Trans4M member groups have the opportunity to travel across the state or visit with us at our numerous stops, as we learn about different projects, victories, and needs of our transportation system. This year we wanted to focus on ways that transportation design and policy affect the quality of Michigan communities. For instance, how can bike paths, crosswalks, transportation policy, and trails contribute to a better place to live, work, and play? And how can community involvement, in the form of enthusiasts, advocates, or the informed public, shape our transportation policy?

We kicked off the Odyssey by participating with Detroit’s Slow Roll on Monday night. After a wet and cold ride, we started early Tuesday morning with a walking tour of Ferndale where we learned about bicycling and pedestrian safety innovations such as buffered bike lanes and mid-block pedestrian crossings. Next we visited Brighton to meet with residents, business owners, and engineers to hear about their downtown renovations to improve pedestrian safety, such as curb bump-outs and their wooden tridge. We ended our first day in Lansing with a presentation on community engagement around transit and nonmotorized projects for the capitol region.

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Green bike lanes in Ferndale are just some of the innovative street designs viewed during the 2014 Transportation Odyssey.

Our second day began in Midland and a brisk walk on the Pere Marquette Trail, where we learned about accessibility and connectivity from the perspective of trail enthusiasts, individuals with disabilities, and Northwood University students. But, as with any good Odyssey, we hit a hurdle on our way to our final destination in Sault Ste. Marie when our bus required an unplanned stop for maintenance. Fortunately, our presenters were able to continue without us, and discussed various transportation projects in the region and their ability to connect diverse populations, such as students at Lake Superior State University and members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

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The Tridge is one of the most iconic stops along the Pere Marquette Trail in Midland.

To read more about our trip, read our blog: Odyssey Recap 2014. And stay tuned for a series of videos that tell the story of innovative transportation projects in these Michigan communities on our YouTube channel.

Regional Transit Victories

Not only was it a busy year for securing state funding for our complete transportation system, but communities across the state had resounding victories in supporting their transit agencies.

Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority

Nearly two years after the passing of legislation that created the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, the board secured a CEO. Michael Ford, formerly CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority (AAATA), accepted the position in August and has already joined Trans4M members in multiple events in the region to promote the RTA. At the fall Transportation Riders United (TRU) meeting he spoke to transit advocates about his goals for making transit a more integrated part of the region’s economy and his commitment to meeting with community members to understand their needs.

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RTA CEO Michael Ford answers questions from TRU Executive Director Megan Owens at the TRU Fall Meeting. Photo Courtesy of TRU

Even as advocates celebrate the progress of the RTA in 2014, they’re looking towards the challenge of raising money to fund the Authority. The Build Transit, Build Business event hosted by the Harriet Tubman Center in November brought over 300 community members together to learn from Ford and Jason Jordon of the Center for Transportation Excellence about best practices for passing a 2016 ballot initiative that would dedicate funds to the operation of the RTA.

If you haven’t checked it out, take a look at the RTA’s new website, launched in December. It includes valuable information about how you can be involved through community engagement events, RTA meetings, and the Citizens Advisory Council.

Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority

If one is looking for a local model of a successful campaign to raise funds for transit, you wouldn’t have to look much farther than the spring “More Buses” campaign for the AAATA. In May, the Washtenaw Partners for Transit led a campaign to expand bus service for the region through a transit millage of 0.7 mills for five years. The vote passed by a resounding 71%!

In August, AAATA celebrated its expanded service which includes more hours on week nights, extended weekend hours, redesigned routes and expanded Dial-a-Ride services. These services affect all three of the jurisdictions serviced by AAATA, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township.

State Millages

Transit agencies around the state took up transit millages in the August ballot, with nearly each ballot measure passing increased funding for bus service. The nation also took up transit millages with 18 states putting 61 different funding measures before the people in 2014. Passage rate was 69%. Most notably in Michigan, the three counties served by SMART all passed a renewal and increase from 0.59 mills to 1 mill.

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Volunteers worked tirelessly to get millages, such as the SMART millage, passed in August.

In a time when the future of transportation, and specifically public transportation, funding is at risk from the federal to the local level, it’s promising to see so many efforts to increase money for our bus agencies succeed. And most importantly, these were done through the power of people coming out to vote and overwhelmingly agreeing that these services are worth the extra expense from their personal finances! Congratulations to all the agencies with victories in 2014.

Innovative Transit

Michigan is often criticized for being behind the times when it comes to innovative transportation solutions. In the automobile capitol of the world, Detroit suffers from a lack of efficient and reliable transit options. But though we may be fighting for small victories today, we’re also looking towards a future of a strong system that transports people and goods within our large urban areas and between our rural communities. Here are just a few of the great things that happened in Michigan transit in 2014, with many more exciting projects coming our way!

Michigan’s First Bus Rapid Transit

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is recognized as a cost-effective solution for congested urban transit. It’s cheaper than rail, but sleek, modern and efficient in ways that a traditional bus services isn’t. That’s why so many communities in Michigan, including Detroit and Lansing, are looking towards their own BRT. But Grand Rapids came first, with the opening of the Silver Line in August.

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DAKC volunteers in blue celebrated the opening day of the first Michigan BRT, the Silver Line.

We rode with volunteers from Trans4M member group Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC) on opening day and got to experience the exciting first trips of the BRT. With designated lanes and signal priority, the Silver Line runs approximately every 10 minutes during peak hours. Additional perks include the well lighted, elevated stations which make boarding simple, especially for passengers with disabilities. It’s a great first step for new transit technology and innovation for Michigan.

M-1 Rail

The long-awaited M-1 Rail to run down Woodward Ave in Detroit made headway this year, with the first phase of construction completed on time in November. The first quarter mile of track has been laid, funding has been secured through public-private partnerships, and excitement is growing around Detroit’s long awaited streetcar. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 2016 to take our first ride, but we’ll be there!

The Future of State Rail

Passenger rail gained new interest this year with speculation on rail projects around the state. From a new exploratory study on a tourist train in Traverse City to the beginning of a technical study for the WALLY Commuter rail between Howell and Ann Arbor, there’s a lot of interest in bringing passenger rail back as a strong contender for preferred means of travel in Michigan.

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Visitors to Howell’s Melon Fest in July try out MiTrain cars, which could be used for WALLY. Photo courtesy of MI by Rail.

Top of this list is the proposed Coast to Coast Passenger Rail which would connect Detroit to Holland via Lansing and Grand Rapids. Though still in the early stages, the project made strong ground this year with a federal grant award, a long list of local supporters, and the release of the proposal for a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

Nonmotorized and Pedestrian

More Michiganders are embracing biking and walking as viable options for commuting, as we saw in 2014. Trans4M member group League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) is a strong leader in these efforts, and made great strides this year towards making our state a safer place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In February Trans4M and LMB launched a new campaign, Share MI Roads, which asks both bicyclists and drivers to take a pledge to be safer on the road. In less than a year, nearly 1,200 individuals have made this pledge! It’s an important first step in raising awareness about the dangerous actions taken by both drivers and bicyclists who share the road. But it’s just a first step, and LMB, in partnership with Trans4M member groups PEAC and Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance, held the annual Lucinda Means Advocacy Day to speak with legislators about important policy changes that can improve safety on the roads. As a result of their efforts, the Nathan Bower Act was passed in October, and now requires that all driver’s education includes information about bicycle and motorcycle awareness.

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State Representative Paul Muxlow, State Representative Terry Brown (sponsor), Governor Rick Snyder, Clint Bower – father of Nathan Bower, Tammy Bower – mother of Nathan Bower, John Lindenmayer – League of Michigan Bicyclists Advocacy & Policy Director and State Senator Morris Hood III at the October 14th bill signing of the Nathan Bower Act, which adds information about bicycle and motorcycle awareness to Michigan driver’s education curriculum. Photo courtesy of League of Michigan Bicyclists

Despite progress and several other bills, such as the Vulnerable Roadway Users package, being introduced, there is still a long way to go to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. A report issued by the National Complete Streets Coalition in May, ranked Detroit as the 11th most dangerous metro area for pedestrians in the country. Though over 90 Michigan communities have adopted complete streets policies aimed towards increasing pedestrian safety through street design, there’s still a lot of work to be done to implement these designs.

 

Trans4M members have been at the front of so many important issues this year, whether its supporting bus agencies at the local level, educating the public and our legislators about the value of a complete transportation system for all users, pushing for stronger rail and trail systems to connect our state, or fighting for increased transportation funding. We’re proud of the work we’ve collectively accomplished this year, but there’s still more to be done.

We’ll see you in 2015!