Mass transit is going to be one of the hottest topics in Metro Detroit up until a millage vote in November. The push has started in earnest for a millage to support $4.6 billion in transit improvements across the Detroit region.

At the Mackinac Policy Conference, we caught up with Matt Cullen, President & CEO of Rock Ventures, to talk about the transit situation in metro Detroit.

Daily Detroit: You, and others, talked a lot about the fact Detroit needs to have better mass transit to be competitive for talent. What are you seeing in the catbird’s seat being that Rock hires a lot of people?

Matt Cullen: I thought it was really interesting when Crain’s studied this. They asked millenials what one thing you would want to see here in our region. 73% of them said the number one item was regional transit. That’s the same kind of experience that I have with my colleagues who are millenials.

It’s not just millenials. It really has become a differentiator for attracting that kind of talent to our community, that we have access for people to get to their jobs for them to get to work. A lot of them just don’t want to have to use their car every day.

Most jobs aren’t accessible within an hour of mass transit here. When you don’t have reliable mass transit, it’s very difficult. You’re at a huge competitive disadvantage relative to other communities.

Daily Detroit: When you’re talking about this bigger transit plan, what kind of economic development can you see happening beyond the Q-Line? How can you see this creating more jobs, or what other kinds of impacts you can see having?

Matt Cullen: For the same reason that people want transit, they’re attracted to it. They want the ability to just go downtown, coming down from Macomb County to be able to get downtown for a ballgame or something, and have dinner and not have to worry about driving or parking, or something like that.

What you find around the country is tremendous economic development around fixed rail and plus rapid transit just slightly behind that, because people know it’s going to be there. People start making investment decisions along that.

They start saying, “Look, I want to build and apartment building here because I know that I can get a higher rent because I know that people are going to want to be here.” Along the Q-Line already, billions of dollars of economic development are either in place or to be in place. That’s consistent with what we’ve seen around the country.

Daily Detroit: What would you say to the homeowner who says, “Well, I have a car. Why am I going to spend $8 a month extra, $96 or whatever it works out to be average, on this?” What would you say to that person who’s skeptical that transit is not going to touch them.

Matt Cullen: Well, in many cases it may touch them, even in ways they don’t know. If they had it, they would use it. People, as I said, they want to get downtown for some other reason, to go to the Lions game or do something else. I think people would use it. Let’s say that they aren’t going to use it themselves.

We just talked about (during the announcement) how the kids are almost by definition going to look for it. If you want your kids here, and you don’t want to go visit them in Chicago or someplace else that has great mass transit anymore, then that’s a really great reason to support this.

It’s also a business driver for the community. At the end of the day, even if you’re not using it, somebody who wants to work at your place of business may need it to get there. Somebody that needs to get a job may be able to get a job, but also then they’ll come into your store and buy something.

Mass transit really is a fundamental piece of a healthy economy, so I think it’s important for everybody.

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