We feel compelled to highlight this story that appeared in the Free Press about James Robertson. He is a 56 year old man that walks 21 miles each day in his roundtrip commute from Detroit to his job in Rochester Hills.

The story really illustrates the amount of work it can take to get to a job without a car in Metro Detroit. It also shows how mass transit (buses, light rail, all of that) isn’t simply a handout or only something that “the hipsters” will use. Functional mass transit can be a real hand up in society and has the ability to help many change their station in life. Robertson would certainly take advantage of an improved system if there was one.

Those who understand what it’s like to live in this area without a car might know that  the stereotype of “poor people don’t want to work” is in most cases flat wrong.

In Metro Detroit, it’s simply that getting to that job, is difficult. When a person has been let go multiple times because they can’t make it on time it hurts their chances of getting a new job. There have been deep bus cuts over the last few years, and although there has been monumental progress with lighting, it’s not like the majority of Detroit’s neighborhood streets are at a safe point yet. Oh, and in case you haven’t looked outside, we have winter. Year-round biking for most folks isn’t practical.

A DDOT bus sits outside of Cass Tech

Until you’ve walked a mile (or 21) in someone else’s shoes, sometimes it’s hard to understand. Not to mention, many Metro Detroiters don’t seem to care that we have the worst major metro public transit system in the country. Here’s a project trying to highlight what transit is like, and they aim to explain it step by step.

Even with the increase in the minimum wage, owning a car when you make less than $20,000 a year is a tough proposition anywhere. However, here in Metro Detroit you basically have no choice than to be in a circle of poverty. Detroit’s transit system, DDOT, although there have been improvements on the margins, is still very inadequate. The suburban system, SMART, although it shows up on time, has major gaps that are the size of cities (as some have literally opted out of it). Lack of economic opportunity and poverty are hitting the suburbs here and across America pretty hard, too.

Our lack of this basic service is an embarrassment. And you know what? It should be embarrassing to the point that Metro Detroiters put real effort and pressure on our leaders to fix it.

If you wonder why some cities are economic engines and others on the decline, quality mass transit is a great indicator of success as we go forward. These 10 cities with the best mass transit have a level of growth and opportunity that we don’t have here.

If we want our region to compete for jobs, talent, and to truly be the “Opportunity Detroit” that the ads keep saying we are, it’s imperative to create a properly working transit system that helps provide that opportunity for all Metro Detroiters.

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