RPATH: Discussing county differences in mass transit

Macomb County, Mich. — For at least 15 years, a group of leaders from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and Detroit have held a summit each fall. They circulate where it’s hosted and what theme is addressed. And then they “go home” and move on to other work and other topics.

Not this time.

Last fall’s Macomb County-hosted event focused on mass transit, and Commissioner David Flynn insisted on keeping the momentum going from the one-day event. And he’s worked to keep the core group of planners convening on a regular basis, calling it RPATH: Regional Partners Advocating Transit Here.

“We’ve all coordinated with each other, all the county commissions and the Detroit city council and passed legislation in favor of the Senate bill,” for a regional authority, Flynn says.

The group, largely county commissioners from five counties, also has submitted comments on pending transit bills in Lansing, met with leading state and regional transit officials, and researched other cities’ transit systems.

The RPATH meetings are places where commissioners can discuss their different interests as mass transit goes forward in southeast Michigan, Flynn says.

“We may have disagreements over certain details or portions of the legislation, but we all support the overall goal of creating a regional transit authority, which will allow us to capture much-needed federal dollars like every other major city in the United States has,” Flynn says. “Our basic talking point is that there is no great city, no vibrant city in the United States that does not have a robust transit system. It’s a fundamental aspect that creates jobs, takes people to their jobs, the schools they attend and the venues they enjoy.

While some in Lansing have taken notice of the group, attended meetings and had conversations with its members, results have not been fully realized, some members admit.

“It’s difficult to tell how impactful they are because the politics around this in Lansing are pretty fluky,” says Conan Smith, executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance that helps with administrative tasks for the group. “But I think there are a handful of places in terms of legislative language that their influence has been felt.

For example, the governance structure of a future authority. While nothing is finalized, there is an ongoing debate about how members are appointed. The commissioners group has suggested changes to the original proposal. The commissioners, like other transit advocates, have also expressed concerns about routes, stations, fare card sharing and other similar realities of a future system.

The group has gotten some notice in Lansing as legislators and the governor’s staff work on legislation to create a regional authority, which could run a bus rapid transit system and assume operation for future systems, like light rail.

“In my estimation, they’re a group that has a good voice,” says Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, author of one of the regional transit authority bills currently pending in the Michigan Legislature. “They’re collected from around the region. They believe in regional transit and bus rapid transit and other things associated that can be turnaround forces.”


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