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Hackel and Patterson: Macomb and Oakland all in for SMART, want out of RTA

A poster shows how an adjusted SMART route will serve an Amazon warehouse in Shelby Township starting in September.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Macomb and Oakland counties’ leaders want the public to support a millage renewal for regional bus service that will be on the ballot this summer.

Mark Hackel and L. Brooks Patterson also want their constituents to know that millage has nothing to do with a plan to expand transit through the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) — a body both men say they now favor abandoning in favor of strengthening that existing regional bus service, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART).

“I’m not pushing forward with this RTA, because I know we can provide solutions through our provider, and that’s SMART,” Hackel said. “We can help solve any regional transit problem that others may have.”

Some transit advocates say the RTA provides needed coordination between the region’s current fragmented transit systems, which leaves some commuters looking at hours-long bus rides every day. SMART also allows some communities to opt out, leaving holes in that already-fragmented landscape.

But Hackel and Patterson say that whatever holes exist can be patched up through SMART. And both say they respect the will of their counties’ voters, who rejected a regional RTA transit master plan in 2016.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have both pushed for a new RTA plan to go on the November 2018 ballot. But the RTA board is unlikely to approve that, given Hackel and Patterson’s recent steadfast opposition to anything RTA-related.

Patterson also staunchly defends the right of some 32 Oakland County communities who currently opt out of SMART service to not be forced “against their will” to pay for transit services they don’t want.

“That offends me,” Patterson said. “I respect the vote cast by my constituents. They didn’t want to play, and so they’re out. That’s fine, that’s how the law was designed. But Evans and Duggan say, bring them in, even against their will. That’s not how we operate.”

Hackel is concerned that given all the talk about regional disagreements over the RTA, Macomb voters will become confused and reject the SMART renewal millage.

“And if it fails in Macomb County, we are left without a [transit] provider. We cannot allow that to happen,” Hackel said.

“Our worry is this continued conversation, trying to force something that we have an opportunity to solve without the RTA, is going to get the mindset of the voters here in Macomb County to say no to that proposal. And where does that land us?”

Hackel, Patterson, and SMART CEO John Hertel all spoke Tuesday in front of a new Amazon logistics center under construction in Macomb’s Shelby Township. They pointed out that Amazon wanted SMART bus stops and adjusted routes to service this center and another new warehouse in Livonia, and SMART accommodated them. They say that “flexibility,” and other recent successes like SMART’s new express FAST service along three major regional corridors, show that SMART is a true regional transit provider.

“One of Amazon’s requests was, we want a SMART bus stop at our facility,” Patterson said. “It’s very simple. They designed a stop here. That’s the flexibility. You want a SMART bus at your front door? Boom, you got it.”

In a statement issued after Thursday’s press conference, Wayne County Executive Evans said the conversation “included many of the compelling arguments for transit absent any of the realities of what is achievable under the current set-up.

"I support the SMART millage because less transit would devastate the region,” said Evans (SMART also serves most cities in Wayne County, with limited service within the city of Detroit). “I support RTA because it is the best path to a true regional system with all the benefits transit can provide.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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