Monday, October 26, 2009

White House on board to fix Detroit's bus mess


Federal officials are coming soon to figure out what can be done to help Detroit's struggling bus system, the Obama administration's top transportation official said Tuesday.

"It's the most common thing I've heard," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday, after a two-day visit to Detroit. "We need to figure out what they need. Is it more money, more equipment?"

The city -- facing a budget deficit -- has cut bus routes and 113 jobs in the Detroit Department of Transportation, leaving some bus riders stranded. LaHood met one of those riders, a King High School student struggling to find a way to school after his bus route was canceled.

Ed Cardenas, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bing, said the city looks forward to working with the Obama administration, "and we appreciate the offer of support."

Transit is going to be a federal priority as President Barack Obama pushes for pedestrain-friendly communities.

"One of the most critical aspects that we'll be looking at is there has to be a regional collaboration," he said. "There isn't enough money to do these things single-handedly."

In the late 1970s, the region walked away from $600 million in federal money to help build a light-rail system from downtown Detroit to Oakland and Macomb counties because city and suburban officials couldn't agree. In 2002, Gov. John Engler vetoed a bill that would have created a regional transportation authority.

"You all have to get your act together on this. It's not that complicated," LaHood said.

Metro Detroit leaders have agreed on a master plan, but they still must get the Legislature to create a regional transit authority, said John Hertel, executive director of the Regional Transit Coordinating Council.

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