Friday, May 21, 2010

Unions, supporters rally for metro Detroit mass transit-BY MATT HELMS FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Union workers and supporters rallied this afternoon at Hart Plaza for support for mass transit as transportation providers in metro Detroit and across the country cut services and lay off workers because of funding cuts brought on by the recession.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. John Conyers and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick were among the speakers at the rally, which included transit unions that have seen their membership cut as the Detroit Department of Transportation laid off workers and reduced services. About 75 people total attended the rally.

Jackson called on the government to restore and expand bus systems and rail in urban and suburban America.

"Mass transit is everyone's problem," Jackson said. "We need a plan to reinvest in transit, re-industrialize America, put America back to work. It's time for mass action."

Jackson said Detroit and other industrial urban areas could be revitalized with jobs building rail lines, rail cars and buses. Detroit put the nation on wheels and can use its resources to help the nation move to cleaner, more environmentally friendly transit.

"As Detroit goes, so goes America," Jackson said. "When Detroit rolls, America rolls."

As the city struggles with major budget troubles, it has cut back on DDOT bus routes and laid off more than 100 drivers. SMART, the suburban bus system, said it is facing significant budget shortfalls beginning in 2012 and could have to cut some services because of projected declines in state and federal funding and money raised from its millage in Macomb and parts of Wayne and Oakland counties.

Transit agencies across the country are laying off workers, cutting back on routes and frequency of service and raising fares as their revenues plummet. A recent survey by the American Public Transportation Association found 84% of the nation’s transit systems have taken such measures or are considering doing so.

Transit supporters say sustained service is crucial to people who rely on it for commuting to work and for the unemployed to look for jobs.

Megan Owens, executive director of Detroit-based Transportation Riders United, said the Michigan Senate recently voted to cut $7 million from transit programs to help cover a projected $84-million shortfall in matching funds the state needs to get about $500 million in federal road funding.

Yet across the country and locally, more people see using transit as an affordable way to get around, Owens said.

"You've got increased demand and decreased funding, and that's a real crunch," Owens said.

In Detroit, riders are waiting longer and spending more time trying to get around, and some have to forgo trips on routes that were cut, Owens said.

"It's having a real impact on people's lives," she said.

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