A new proposal to address the lack of a regional transportation system in metropolitan Detroit. The plan for light rail has been scrapped in favor of buses like this one used in LA and Las Vegas., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Detroit — A controversial vote today to shift $7 million in federal funding from the Detroit Department of Transportation to the suburban SMART bus system is prompting protests from Mayor Dave Bing and others who argue the change is unfair to the city's beleaguered bus system.
At 1 p.m. at its Detroit base, the 50-member executive committee of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will vote on whether to change the funding formula.
The formula for distributing $41.2 million in federal capital allocations for bus grades would go from 65 percent to 35 percent in DDOT's favor to a 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent split favoring SMART.
SEMCOG executive director Paul Tait said the funding change is dictated by the Federal Transit Administration to be closer in line with other regions and that SMART's bus fleet is older and in dire need of upgrades the funding would provide.
"The fact that DDOT does have newer buses leads me to the conclusion that it's not the bus fleet that's causing them not to have adequate services, it's the lack of operational dollars," Tait said. "I don't believe the contention that DDOT service will be so badly eroded. It's already eroded by insufficient operating dollars."
Bing's office declined to comment about the vote but referred to an April 19 letter from the mayor to Tait that urged a delay until the newly created Regional Transit Authority, which will oversee doling out federal funds by October, can weigh in.
"If adopted, this resolution will place a tremendous hardship on the city, considering the General Fund must support a portion of preventative maintenance expenditures for DDOT buses previously funded by FTA," Bing wrote. "This potential occurs at a time when the city of Detroit can ill afford further strains on its General Fund."
If the change is approved Detroit would receive $19.8 million in federal money instead of $26.8 million. SMART would get $21.4 million instead of $14.4 million.
Detroit has received the lion's share of federal transit money for many years.
Critics of the change see disastrous results for DDOT. "Are the folks at SEMCOG unaware of how Detroit bus riders have often been left literally stranded because of previous cuts to DDOT?" said the Rev. Joan C. Ross, director of the North End Woodward Community Coalition in a statement. "It is commonsense that the system with the most riders gets the most funding.It makes no sense to abandon a fair and logical formula and make a bad bus system worse in the process."
But John Swatosh, deputy general manager of administration for SMART, said his agency has suffered the most with an unfair agreement for many years. The federal agency, he said, has "directed" SEMCOG to make the change.
"For the last 23 years, obviously we've been hurt by the 65-35," Swatosh said. "It's about time that the change was corrected. It has to be based upon some data, some reason, some logic as opposed to the idea you just continue something that's been there for 23 years."