April 21, 2018 rss
header twitter link facebook link home link
View Resource Guide and Job Postings

Ken Winter

Ken Winter

Michigan’s Unkept Secret

May 19, 2017

Those reading this column are probably not in need and doubtless grasp the desperation many Michiganders face just to survive. They have transportation for healthcare, and in many cases employment offering a living wage. They often live in rural areas for cheap housing. I certainly won’t pretend to grasp the situation.

So it came as no surprise to those reading a 2016 Slate magazine story headlined, “Can America’s Worst Transportation System Be Saved?” The 2016 story focused on how Detroit had a “chance to allay decades of discord and neglect -if suburbanites vote to put the region first”.

Voters then rejected the ballot issue to create a southeastern Michigan public transportation network. It’s only the tip of the iceberg for the elderly and disabled who don’t own private vehicles to make medical appointments, purchase food or other life necessities to survive. The situation can be found in most cities and rural areas throughout Michigan. People are stranded without mobility and dependent upon family, friends and neighbors for help to live.

Part of the blame dates back the early 50s when the auto industry was king and lobbied for roads that eventually enabled people, business and industry to relocate from core cities for whatever reason. Some claimed this was Michigan’s definition of mass transportation–the automobile that improved many people’s standard of living brought on a host of new problems.

For just this month, I joined the elderly and disabled. I cannot walk or drive. However, I’m fortunate to be comfortably semi-retired, own my own home with a car in the garage and have a kind network of neighbors and friends to transport me to medical appointments and shopping. My disability caused by elective corrective surgery on my right, and today (May 19) left foot, ends in early June.

What about those not so fortunate? A local public transportation advocate challenged me to travel around Petoskey using public transportation a few times to shop and socialize. I discovered I was lucky because I’m 66 and qualified to ride our senior center “dial-a-ride” bus for $1.50 to meet friends or get groceries if I make two day advanced reservations. Everything went well for me, except after getting delivered home I discovered I left my rain coat with cell phone behind and had to ask a friend to retrieve them after work.

Many outside Petoskey, particularly in the northern Emmet County just below the Mackinaw Bridge, aren’t as fortunate. The same story repeats itself throughout the state in many rural areas. It becomes even more complicated for rural and urban residents without vehicle or access to public transportation to get to work or school.

The Detroit regional transportation election results are history now when Oakland County voters gave it a thumbs down. Supporters argued that the region needs a connected public transportation system to compete with other metropolitan areas, most of which spend significantly more per capita on transit than southeast Michigan does, and to help those who do not own a vehicle or are unable to drive get to work, education, health care or recreation.

Opponents argued it was a massive tax hike for services residents already supported through fees and other taxes and that it would anchor the region to an outdated transportation network. The issue can’t legally appear again on the ballot until 2018.

The transportation story ironically isn’t much different 300 miles north along I-75 in the tri-counties of Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan, known by many as some of the most beautiful in state, advertised by “Pure Michigan” across the country. Just like Washtenaw and Macomb were unable to convince wealthy Oakland County to form a regional transit authority, Emmet County residents have a similar plight. They can’t even convince its county board of commissioners to establish in-county transit, let alone form a regional authority and system with neighboring counties. Emmet is the only northern Michigan county without public transportation.

Emmet County, one of the top three wealthiest counties in northern Michigan, offers only a patchwork of limited public transportation thanks to extended service from neighboring systems and a restricted “dial-a-ride” bus for those 60 years-plus or disabled through a special county millage supporting county senior centers.

Others can use the system for medical needs, work and shopping if time is available and bus is not full between 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday with a two day advance reservations. Service is limited and not available in some parts of the county.

After four different major studies in the last two years by the state and other groups identifying its transportation needs, Emmet County Commissioners want to continue to study the issue. Part of the reason comes from an almost entirely new commission elected after voters threw out the incumbent board for bonding and spending over $9 million to construct palatial facilities at its new International Dark Sky Park near the Mackinac Bridge without voter consent and ignoring other county needs. The new commission is now straddled with financing that bond indebtedness and finding revenue for regular county operations.

Emmet County’s situation will eventually be resolved, but what about plight of other urban and rural areas that fall below the radar and between the cracks of current mass transit systems? Where is the leadership?

Michigan has a transportation network with not enough local, state and federal monies to maintain current levels, yet alone grow. Roads, rails, bridges and infrastructure built in the last century continue to crumble.

Instead of repairing what we now have, the latest is talk about creating passenger rail service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City with a possible extension to Petoskey. This is near the same rail track Michigan abandoned and broke up four decades ago for private sale, as well as public walking, bike and snowmobile trails.

What’s next? State and federal support for self-driving cars when others can’t even afford a car to drive? The state transportation and automotive network already have it covered.

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North in Petoskey and Michigan State University.

May 18, 2017 · Filed under Winter



© 2007-2011 DomeMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Site design by Kimberly Hopkins, khopdesign, llc.