DETROIT—Freshwater Transit founder Neil Greenberg has a passion for collaborative transit solutions in southeast Michigan. The high-energy advocate-cum-entrepreneur’s novel thinking is amplified by quick talking and a booming voice.
“The current policy is thin on context,” he shares from his seat on the program’s four-speaker panel. “We want to help RTA with customized, technical solutions that are understood. The emphasis is on customization and understanding.”
Monday’s Lunch and Learn, hosted by the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, brought together local advocates to discuss the future of transit in southeast Michigan and the realities of the newly formed Regional Transit Authority. In addition to Greenberg, the panel also included Shauna Rushing of the Metro Coalition of Congregations, Joel Batterman from the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, and Carmine Polombo who is the RTA Representative for Southeast Michigan Council on Governments.
Polombo was a last minute addition to the program, an add-on that instilled nervous anticipation in the ambitious Freshwater Transit team, who—for the first time—could publicly address the RTA on their desire to build a professional and collaborative relationship.
As with any great gathering, the meeting began with food. Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue’s Executive Director Anna Kohn introduced and thanked the panelists for their participation. We were there to live tweet the event (see a transcript below).
The event was organized as a roundtable discussion led by open forum questions. Some queries touched on the formation of the RTA, including its financial sources, while others focused on the bigger racial and social implications of transit decision-making in our region.
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May 6, 2013
12:25: Carmine of @SEMCOG: "We're really looking at how to design systems and provide people with transportation that they want and need."
12:30: @IADSdetroit Pres. Leor Barak: "Transit is an issue that divides us as a region. RTA to bring us together to live, work, and play."
12:34: @fwtransit Neil on fares: state and local cash directed to service, federal dollars generally toward infrastructure. #MITRANS #RTA
12:36: Deshean McClinton: "Transit could tear down the walls of segregation. What is preventing this from becoming a reality?"
12:41: @SEMCOG Carmine: "DDOT's problem is not capital, it is operation dollars. We have new buses but nobody to drive them." #MITRANS
12:43: David Calton: "Does progress demand mass enlightenment?" Carmine: "We need agreement on what we want and need."
12:46: Joel of MI Trans in response to Deshean: "Segregation is parallel in this transit debate."
12:50: Daveed: "Is the RTA a policy-making or administrative entity?" Carmine: "In future has ability to run transit but not in mandate."
12:52: Yodit: "We are asking for the public input, which is good. How to ensure that the people are not fatigued as this debate continues?"
12:56: Shauna from Metro Coalition: "We try to create a loud and united citizen voice so that policy-makers HAVE to pay attention."
1:01: Neil @fwtransit: "The current policy is thin on context. We want to help RTA with customized, technical solutions that are understood."
1:05: Jon Koller: "How do you see places transforming to accommodate transit when they have no experience with transit?" #MITRANS
1:06: Koller x2: "Dan Gilbert shuttles employees to a parking lot in Corktown b/c their cars cannot fit. We need business sector support."
1:09: Neil @fwtransit: "We cannot expect the private sector to just open their pockets for us or we will be waiting for a long time."
Neil: “Put the T in the RTA.”
Shauna: “Use your own voice and join with other voices.”
Carmine: “Stay involved.”
Joel: “Need to gradually build a regional civil society.”
The event panelists answered a lot of questions for folks in the audience. But ultimately it did not solve the transportation issues at hand. While we continue to discuss the future of transit in southeast Michigan, our buses fail to run on schedule and our neighborhoods remain disconnected.
At transit meetings, the finger is frequently pointed at the wealthier suburban populations that, allegedly, fail to recognize the value that public transportation could provide for them and their neighborhoods. We have a long way to go in figuring out how to design systems that provide us with the transportation and unification that we want and need, but the first step is opening dialogue between all types of taxpayers, advocates, and riders.