Background: Oakland County, in Metro Detroit, has long had a public transit arrangement where individual communities could decide to participate in the transit system, tax their citizens, and receive services. This November, the Democrat-controlled County Board of Commissioners ended that, and with a 57% county-wide majority vote, imposed a county-wide tax on everyone. The YES TRANSIT people, including the County Executive’s office, promised a glittering future. Here’s my response.
TRANSIT PROMISES: YOU TOOK THE MONEY, NOW SHOW US!!!
It’s a new day for public transit in Oakland County. Following November’s passage of the Oakland Transit Millage, the funding and operations of public transit in Oakland is supposed to change, and radically for the better. Fair enough. So now what?
Following the vote, Oakland County will now levy a county-wide millage of .95 mills everywhere. This will be collected by the County and distributed as the County sees fit, with several provisions to fund named providers like NOTA, OPC, etc. Administration will be by a Transit Division within the County Executive’s Economic Development Department, with three permanent staffers, paid for with millage proceeds. Appropriation of what funds go where will be decided by the Board.
So here we are. Understand, that although the YES vote was a substantial 57%, there are large parts of the county that loudly protested. To counter, the YES TRANSIT folks promised many benefits for everyone. An official Oakland County government website promises:
—It will maintain existing public transit services, including services provided by the SMART bus system, NOTA, WOTA and the OPC.
–It will increase the frequency of services.
–It will expand transit service by creating and extending new transit routes across Oakland County, especially those underserved employment centers.
–It will expand Reservation-based transportation services, which are flexible rides for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities who need to make essential trips, such as doctor appointments and grocery shopping.
–It will expand App-based transportation – small vehicle, on-demand service– to all to provide better links between lower-density suburban areas to the full transit system.
(Oakland Transit | Oakland Transit (oakgov.com) “FAQ: What will the Transit Millage Do”)
These are big promises, and there’s big money voted in: $66 million in the first year alone. What needs to happen now is accountability for these pledges, and the first step is a comprehensive Transit Service Inventory for Oakland County. What transit services currently exist, what routes, where do they go, how many people ride them, and what is spent on them? For example: what services does Rose Township get right now? Rochester and Rochester Hills? Novi? What is the current baseline for service?
Once we know that, we can measure the service changes, and what progress is being made toward keeping the YES TRANSIT people’s promises. A good move would be a dashboard of key service indicators—including and especially ridership–, community by community. That way Oakland’s citizens can measure what they’re getting for their money.
Without a public baseline and regularly updated, online dashboard reports, all the glowing promises of a better future through expanded transit are just more campaign flatulence. Given the 10 year long period of the millage, and the abolition of voluntary community participation, Oakland County owes the transparent accounting of a good and faithful steward, not a boondoggle, pork-barreling political machine.