Metro Detroit Desperately Needs Mass Transit

When I was in the Navy, I often sat on a train for 45 minutes between Yokosuka, Japan and Tokyo. The train moved at a steady clip of 68 miles per hour through the densest parts of the Kanagawa prefecture. When I got off the platform at the largest train station in the world, I paid a measly $6. A Japanese friend bragged, "You know, the reason nobody is unemployed in Japan is because we can all get to work."

Here in Detroit, it's a very different story. As the Regional Transit authority is discussing a 1.2 mill tax increase for Metro Detroit residents to pay for mass transit, some remain skeptical. That's why it's important for folks to understand the major economic and generational trends in our area that restrain economic growth, all of which are tied to the lack of mass transportation.

For instance, most of the entry-level jobs are in the suburbs, but most of the workers willing to take those jobs live in the city. With no viable mass transportation system, it means that thousands and thousands of Metro Detroit jobs continue to go unfilled, while thousands and thousands of workers are unemployed.

The economic cost of this dysfunction isn't just in the lack of economic efficiency, but also in state welfare benefits that are then paid out to these trapped workers. This is just one symptom of the transit dysfunction we have in Metro Detroit.

With giant holes in our regional transit system, it creates tragic economic tales like Detroit's infamous "walking man." But, like I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another continuing problem is the exodus of millennials from Michigan to other states. Millennials, as a group, tend to favor mass transportation over driving. The top three modes of transit favored by millennials include bicycle, rail and bus travel. Driving a car is the least favorite mode of transit, even lower than walking (gasp!)

Not to mention, studies have shown that the "hot spots" for Millennials to move into always have mass transit, and many millennials surveyed said that the lack of waiting in traffic, the ability to walk and use mass transit and the ability to save money on a car were major factors in deciding to move there.

So, where are millennials going? They're heading out to Chicago and New York, which clearly shows they're not leaving us because of the weather. The lack of mass transportation is a major factor in Michigan's continued population decline.

However, because of this population decline, the majority of the voters who will be deciding on this millage will be older and, generationally, less attracted to mass transportation. There is a very real divide between baby boomers and millennials on whether or not they prefer to use mass transit. Baby boomers tend to favor the freedom of a car, while millennials favor the convenience of mass transit.

So, how does a millennial like me convince baby boomers to do the right thing? All I can say is, if you like your children and grandchildren living 4, 6 or 10 hours from you - reject the millage. If you want to see your kids moving back to Michigan and re-investing in the communities they grew up in, then vote yes on the millage. It's just that simple.

There is no path to population growth, regional economic growth or to attracting millennials back to our region without a mass transit fix. The stakes are high - and voters are going to have to think beyond their own preferences. All I can ask is that voters make their decision based on what is best for the future of our region.