News Story

Michigan lawmaker pitches $2B transit proposal

Wayne State University professor calls plan another boondoggle

A state representative has expensive plans for the state’s little-used mass transit system.

Rep. Jason Morgan, D-Ann Arbor, tweeted a plan last week to use $2 billion in taxpayer funds for transit in Michigan over the next ten years.

“We’ve put forward the boldest plan to support transit and housing in Michigan history,” Morgan wrote on X. “This is the biggest chance we’ve ever had and we’ve shown that such a bold plan is possible.”

State taxpayers already heavily subsidize public transit for the 1.3% of residents who use it. If Morgan’s House Bill 5769 passes, it would allocate $200 million per year over the next ten years to the state’s transit system.

Morgan did not respond to an email seeking comment. But he did engage a skeptic on social media.

“No thanks,” a commenter responded to Morgan’s tweet. “We pay enough in taxes.”

Morgan replied by saying that his plan was not a tax increase.

Morgan’s proposal could leave taxpayers with the bill for another transit boondoggle, John Taylor, associate professor of supply chain management for the Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University, told Michigan Capitol Confidential. Taylor was the chair of marketing and supply chain management for ten years.

The Detroit Department of Transportation and the Detroit-area Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, or SMART, have been hemorrhaging money, Taylor said. Both transit systems have seen a large decline in ridership as residents turn to Uber and other options.

Proponents of the spending increase say public subsidies for mass transit are declining. The city of Detroit once paid $90 million annually for the Detroit Department of Transportation, but funding has dropped to $50 million, according to Transportation Riders United. The transportation nonprofit supports Morgan’s $2 billion increase in transit spending.

Wayne State’s Taylor countered that very little has been done to improve transit efficiency and coordinate with the systems that are already in place. The Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART run parallel to each other but have not been able to provide more efficient and reliable service for transit riders.

The new proposal also comes as Michigan roads are projected to fall apart faster than they can be rebuilt. Roads serve 99% of the population, Taylor said, and the state should take care of the road network before funneling more money into public transit.

Taylor also pointed to previous transit initiatives that fell well short of expectations. The Michigan Department of Transportation used a federal grant in 2010 to buy the NS rail line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

At the time MDOT thought it would have a passenger rail service from Ann Arbor to Detroit and from Howell to Ann Arbor. The cost was $140 million for 135 miles of rail that MDOT is now responsible for maintaining.

The department also spent $1.1 million per year to lease 23 rail cars that it never used, according to the Detroit Free Press. Taxpayers had spent $12 million on the rail cars by 2015.

Taxpayers in Michigan paid $653.8 million for public transportation programs in the 2022-23 fiscal year, according to the House Fiscal Agency.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.