Elizabeth Bastian / Managing Editor
Elizabeth Bastian / Managing Editor

By ELIZABETH BASTIAN, Managing Editor

“What have you heard about mass transit recently?”

This is the question I have begun to ask people as a newly-trained outreach volunteer for Transportation Riders United. And for most, the response often begins with a chuckle, followed by any synonym for the word “bad.”

And who can blame them? While Detroit once had good public transportation in the form of streetcars, it is now notorious for its spotty service, unreliable stopping times, and glacial travel speeds. Detroit, Michigan is perhaps one of the only places in the world where riding public transit is a social stigma, one that those who can afford to often avoid.

However, the people of metro Detroit and of the state of Michigan may finally be turning over a new leaf. For reasons as variable as environmental concern to a lack of economic resources for owning and maintaining a car, the demand for more, and better, mass transportation is growing. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was signed by Governor Snyder at the end of this past year, establishing a board of directors for Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties that will oversee decisions on any form of mass transit in the new future. The M-1 Streetcar Project, with big names such as the Ilitch family and Dan Gilbert, is planning on starting construction sometime this year, with completion slated for 2015. There has even been talk of putting in a high-speed rail line from Detroit to Chicago, with stops in Ann Arbor and Dearborn.

Times are changing. Newsflash – peak oil has been reached already. This means that globally, we are processing as much petroleum as we possibly can on a daily basis. While the oil reserves of the world are depleting, we are only continuing to use more and more gas, and there is no way we can continue to produce enough oil to keep up with our consumerism. Within our generation’s lifetime, gas is going to become too expensive to purchase on a regular basis.

The automobile-dependent lifestyle as we know it is not sustainable for much longer. Public transportation needs to transform in the metro region’s conscience from an extreme last-resort to an everyday, viable, and reliable source of travel.

And if we don’t start fighting for these options now, they are not going to be around when we really do need them.

So what can we do?

Let’s start with contacting our local legislators. Tell your city council and Lansing that you demand reliable public transportation for all. Tell them that, if necessary, you are willing to pay more in taxes to get mass transit here (hey, what you will save in gas money will cover those taxes!). Tell them to lobby harder for federal grant money to fund the construction of streetcars, light rail, high-speed rail, and Bus Rapid Transit routes. If a loud enough racket is made, they will have to listen.

Public comment for the M-1 (Woodward) Streetcar line ends on March 14. This is the perfect opportunity for those in metro Detroit and the city proper to express their opinions on this project.

Just realize that public transit is not going to appear unless we ask for it. We can ensure a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and stable economic future through the usage of mass transportation on a larger scale. It is ours to demand, so why not fight for it?

For more information on the M-1 Streetcar, and to comment on the project, visit www.michigan.gov/mdot or the TRU wesbite www.detroittransit.org.