James Robertson, has been coined Detroit’s “walking man” because of his tenacity in earning a perfect attendance mark at his suburban factory job all while walking nearly 21 miles round trip from Detroit to Rochester Hills. Without a car, Robertson must hobble together a defunct set of bus routes, leaving him no choice but to walk most of the distance into the Detroit suburbs. This story is surely one of many in the Metro-Detroit are, begging the question: Why is the public transit system in the Detroit area far less than mediocre?
Drawing Detroit sets out to illustrate the issue and to discuss how allowing communities to opt out of transit service can limit employment opportunities and create a situation of economic injustice.
Below is a map showing the number of manufacturing employees reported to the 2012 Economic Census of the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012 along with the transit status of communities in Wayne and Oakland counties. Aside from the Detroit Department of Transportation, the only existing transit system that is close being considered somewhat regional is Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART). SMART has bus lines that run throughout Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. In Wayne and Oakland counties municipalities have the option to either opt-in or opt-out supporting SMART, and therefor having it run through their community. In Oakland, the majority of communities-55 percent of 33 of 60- have opted out. In Macomb County, all municipalities support SMART; they do not have the option to opt-out. Because of this, they are irrelevant to the discussion.
Some critics of the Free-Press article on Robertson indicated that there has been little need for low-skill workers in Detroit and other poorer communities to travel into these opt-out communities for employment or otherwise, characterizing these suburbs as bedroom communities with limited job prospects for transit-dependent workers. A quick examination of the map below indicates this is a fallacy. Many manufacturing jobs have moved to the suburbs, following its workforce and also seeking out new facilities and campuses in unsettled areas. Opt-out communities including Oxford Township, Novi and Canton have in excess of 2,000 manufacturing jobs located in their boundaries; Livonia had 9,447 manufacturing jobs in 2012.
In total, 38,461 manufacturing jobs were located in opt-out communities in these two counties, representing 34.1 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the two-county area. Broken down by county, it is 29.6 percent (19,484 manufacturing jobs) of Wayne County’s manufacturing employment and 40.6 percent (18,977 manufacturing jobs) of Oakland’s manufacturing employment.