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Riding into the future

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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08/23/2016 - There's no secret that Detroit, and surrounding areas, have had a 100-plus year love affair with automobiles. We love to drive them, build them, cruise them, and gaze at them. For many homeowners, a two-car garage is no longer sufficient, with three-car garages becoming more and more common in newer suburban homes. Yet, there are still many people without cars, and in need of reliable transportation. Increasingly, young people are choosing not to get their driver's licenses at 16. Millennials have received the memo, drilled into them by parents and teachers, that drinking and driving is a bad thing, and often choose ride-sharing transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, when going out for a night of fun. But for decades, other options for transit in the metro area have been scarce and unreliable.

On August 4, the board of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA), comprised of representatives from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties and the city of Detroit, unanimously agreed to compromise language on a master plan for a regional transit millage to be placed on the November 8 ballot. The ballot issue asks voters in the four counties to approve a 1.2-mill property tax increase to fund the RTA's master plan of bus rapid transit and commuter rail to be developed over a 20-year time period. While the RTA has said the tax would cost the owner of an average home in the metro area $95 annually in additional taxes, that is only if your home has a state equalized value of $100,000, meaning you have a home worth $200,000. If you live in a $1 million-plus home in Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester Hills or Oakland Township, the RTA tax you pay may be closer to $600, or more, annually.

Unlike with the SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) millage, communities will not be able to opt-out of the RTA tax if it is passed by residents of three of the four counties. And homeowners would pay for it on top of the SMART millage, which was increased to a one-mill tax from .59 mills in 2014 and will expire in 2018, when it is slated to come before voters in Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and Wayne counties for a renewal. Even if the RTA millage is approved, residents will continue to need to support SMART as a separate entity, at this point for an indefinite time. "I'm sure it will always require tax subsidies. Only about 10 to 20 percent of revenue comes from fare boxes," said Gerald Poisson, chief deputy county executive of Oakland County, noting that Tokyo's transit system is the only one in the world that does not require a subsidy. "The ones in the U.S., millage subsidies account for about 50 to 60 percent (of revenue)."

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