Public Transportation for Work Commute Underutilized in Southeastern Michigan

Throughout Southeastern Michigan public transportation to get to work is utilized by less than 2 percent of the population in almost every community, according to 2016 Census data. The only community in Southeastern Michigan where more than 11 percent the population utilizes public transportation to travel to work is Highland Park. According to the data, 17.5 percent of the Highland Park population utilized public transportation to travel to work in 2016. It should be noted that Highland Park also has the lowest median income and highest poverty levels in Southeastern Michigan. Additionally, Highland Park has both Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) stops in the city. Next to Highland Park, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have the next highest public transportation usage rates for commuting to work, ranging from 5 to 11 percent. These areas also have access to dedicated public transportation systems. For example, in Detroit there is DDOT, which also collaborates with SMART, and in Ann Arbor there is the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

While there are dedicated public transportation systems throughout Southeastern Michigan, they do not service all of the region. This fact is particularly showcased in the map above; nearly all of the green communities have no or limited access to public transportation. In some areas, like throughout much of Monroe, St. Clair, Livingston and Washtenaw counties, there are no sources of public transportation even offered to community members. While in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties access to public transportation is offered, but communities must vote on whether or not to support and utilize the services, such as with the SMART votes (how this service works is detailed here).

Understanding the region’s transit system, or lack there of, is important when reading about the usage of public transportation. When viewing just the numbers it could easily be argued a regional transit system isn’t needed because of the low percentage of users. However, further knowledge on public transportation in Southeastern Michigan shows that there is actually a lack of access, connectivity and education on the economic and community benefits related to public transportation.

The Fate of Transit Remains in Limbo in Southeastern Michigan

The fate of public transit in Southeastern Michigan continues to remain unknown. While the Suburban Mobility Authority For Regional Transportation (SMART) millage passed in communities throughout Oakland and Wayne counties and, just barely, in Macomb County the cohesion amongst public figures and, most importantly, the public continues to disintegrate. The continued outspoken opposition against the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) by Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel tend to gain the most attention, but the near death of public transit in Macomb County should speak even louder. In Macomb County, when a SMART millage goes before voters the entire county must either approve or vote it down. Just last month the voters of Macomb County were asked to approve a SMART millage renewal. The voters did approve the millage renewal, but by a mere 23 votes, even though Hackel was urging for a “yes” vote on this proposal. Four years ago though, when Macomb County voters were asked to approve a millage increase, from 0.59 mills to 1 mill, the passage rate was 60 percent. This approval came before the 2016 RTA millage request that ultimately failed. This RTA millage proposal passed in Wayne and Washtenaw counties, where support was a given, and continues, by the elected officials and businesses, while it failed in Macomb and Oakland counties.

Two years later, officials still can’t come to a consensus on what the RTA proposal should be, which is why it will not appear on the November ballot.

The stories amongst elected officials remain the same, Patterson and Hackel don’t support transit in the form of the RTA, Wayne and Washtenaw county and Detroit officials see the need to expand on current systems and the messaging transit advocates have tried to push for years is not getting through. With the SMART millage passage transit options will continue to be provided in areas of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Additionally, the Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART continue to strengthen their relationship to provider faster and broader connectivity for transit users. However, the negativity propagated about regional transit from Patterson and Hackel seems to be trickling down to voters. It is vital that regional community, meaning the voters, comes together to push for a robust system that allows citizens greater opportunities to travel to jobs, educational institutions and health care providers. There must be support for a system that encourages economic growth, and most importantly, breaks down barriers that currently exist in Southeastern Michigan. To do this, citizens need to educate themselves on both sides of the regional transit debate, grow their understanding on what transit means for a region and not be afraid to speak against the loudest in the room.

As to public officials, one wonders when those officials who do support transit—those in Wayne County, Washtenaw County and Detroit—will realize that they can innovate without their recalcitrant neighbors to the north. A thriving transit system propelled by these governments will support the rapidly evolving growth economy along the east-west axes of I-94 and I-96/U.S. 23, even if our northern neighbors wish to lag. Let’s proceed intelligently and incrementally, if regional and rational are not feasible at this time.

Metro-Detroit Transit Continues With Uphill Battle Despite SMART Millage Passage

The Suburban Mobility Authority For Regional Transportation (SMART) received a vote of confidence from the tri-county region for its four-year 1 mill millage renewal, which was also a slight increase for communities in Macomb and Oakland counties (the increase request was due to Headlee amendment rollbacks in previous years that brought original 1 mill rate slightly below that). However, even though election results show the SMART millage passed in Macomb County and in areas of Oakland and Wayne counties on Aug. 7, 2018, there were questions if that was really the case. In mid-August the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance requested a partial recount of the Macomb County SMART millage vote because the millage proposal only passed by 39 votes. According to the election results, 77,500 Macomb County voters were in favor of the millage renewal and increase and 77,461 Macomb County voters cast a ballot against the proposal. With a 50 percent passage rate, the group felt a recount was needed to ensure the results were accurate. On Aug. 29 the group stopped the partial recount because it became evident that there would not be enough “no” votes to overturn the originally approved millage approval, according to a Michigan Radio news article.

In Wayne County the SMART millage had a 73 percent passage rate, with 78,943 of the voters in favor of the millage renewal and slight increase. Oakland County had the highest pass rate at 77 percent, with 123,435 of the voters in favor of the proposal and 36,723 of the voters voting against it.

SMART, which is the region’s only existing transportation system outside of the Detroit Department of Transportation’ system, was created in 1967. As is evident by the maps above, the system operates throughout the tri-county region, but not necessarily in every community. Due to the way SMART initiatives can be placed on the county ballots (by individual counties), Macomb County is the only county in which the entire county (50 percent or more) must support a SMART millage in order for it to approved. This is why such a close approval rate for the Aug. 7 millage, and the potential of a recall, were vital for Macomb County, it’s either all or nothing. Unlike Macomb County, Oakland and Wayne counties communities have the option to “opt-out” of supporting the authority. In the second map above, data on approval rates for all Macomb County communities is available, and only partial information is available for Oakland County communities. For the Oakland County communities, these are the “opt-in” communities that approved the SMART proposal.


No data was available for the Wayne County communities through the Wayne County Election’s Office website; the only information available was the pass/fail rate for the millage proposal for the whole county.

In Macomb County, the cities of Grosse Pointe Shores and Eastpointe had the highest passage rates at 61 percent. Ray Township had the lowest approval rate at 31 percent, according to the results. As noted, all the Oakland County communities on the second map above had approval rates above 50 percent, because they “opted in” to use the SMART service. Of those communities, Huntington Woods had the highest approval rate at 90 percent and Walled Lake had the lowest at 70 percent.

While SMART continues to be the only regional transit authority in Southeastern Michigan, this recent election confirms again that the region has a lot of room to grow in providing equal and equitable transportation services throughout the region. If Macomb County voters did not pass the millage request, public transportation in the county would likely have ceased to exist. And, in many parts throughout Oakland and Wayne counties transportation gaps are huge.


Suicide Rates in Southeastern Michigan Continue to Rise

Suicide rates in the State of Michigan have been increasing, and data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows that suicide rates in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties have contributed to that increase. Between 2006 and 2016, Macomb County experienced the highest increase for all ages at a rate of 3.2 per 100,000 residents. Macomb County went from a rate of 10.2 in 2006 to 13.4 in 2016. In 2016 the suicide rate in for Oakland County was 11 per 100,000, a slight increase in the rate of 0.2. For Wayne County the rate was 11.9 per 100,00, an increase in the rate of 1.8. All three counties had a lower suicide rate in 2016 than state’s rate of 13.5 per 100,000.

Data for Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties is not used in this post because it was only reported on a 5-year-average from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and this data is reported on an annual basis.

While the under 25 years of age population had among the lowest suicide rates of the age categories examined in this post, it did have the highest rate increases of the categories between 2006 and 2016. For the State of Michigan in 2016, the suicide rate for those under the age of 25 was 6.9 per 100,000 resident; this was an increase of 3.4 from 2006. Wayne County was the only county of the three (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb) with a higher suicide rate for the 25 and under population than the State of Michigan. According to the data, Wayne County’s suicide rate for the under 25 years of age population was 8.1 per 100,000 residents, an increase in the rate of 4.2 from 2006. With a rate increase of 4.2, Wayne County also had the highest rate increase in the tri-county region.

For the 25-74 years of age population, the suicide rate in the State of Michigan was 17.1 per 100,000 residents. Macomb County was the only county in the tri-county area with a rate higher than the state’s. The Macomb County suicide rate was 17.5 per 100,000 residents, a rate increase of 3.2 from 2006. Oakland County was the only one to experience a rate decrease for the 25-74 years of age population between 2006 and 2016. The rate decrease for Oakland County during that time period was -1 per 100,000. Oakland County’s suicide rate for the 25-74 year population was 13.9 per 100,000 residents in 2016.

For the 75 years of age and older population, Macomb County was again the only one in the tri-county region with a rate above the State’s. In 2016, Macomb County’s rate was 18.1 per 100,000 residents and the State’s was 16.4 per 100,000 residents. Macomb County experienced a rate increase of 7.8 between 2006 and 2016 while the State experienced a rate increase of 2.3. On the other hand, Oakland and Wayne counties both experienced rate decreases between 2006 and 2016. The suicide rate decrease for the 75 years of age and older population for Oakland County was 4.2 and for Wayne County it was 3.8.

Over the last 20 years, according to a recent Center for Disease Control study, the suicide rate in Michigan has increased about 33 percent, which is slightly higher than the national increase during the same time frame. That report further states that more than 20 percent of individuals who commit suicide have no known history of mental health conditions. Rather, substance abuse and relationship issues are often cited as factors.