According to a Detroit News article, a countywide proposal to raise taxes for bus service will not appear before Oakland County voters anytime soon because there isn't sufficient support from the Oakland County Board of Commissioners to place it on the ballot. The News also notes that 38 of 61 communities within Oakland County have already opted out of getting bus service from (and thus paying taxes to) the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.
Having already defected from SMART and much of its taxing authority, it is perhaps no surprise that those 38 communities would be reluctant to submit to giving voters in the other 23 communities a chance to impose a new bus tax on them. Indicative of this reluctance is the county commissioner representing Commerce Township and Milford, who told The News that a countywide tax vote could lead to $1.5 million in new taxes being imposed on her district even though no new services would be provided.
But having non-riders pay the fares of public bus riders is something of a Michigan tradition. Consider 2009 House Bill 4185 from State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville. This proposal would require every state tax subsidized transit agency in Michigan to get at least 20 percent of its operating revenue from fares paid by actual riders. Unfortunately, while this may seem to be an absurdly low standard, it isn't. Few - if any - of Michigan's bus agencies meet it. I wrote about a nearly identical version of this bill when Agema introduced it two years ago:
As of 2005, the latest year that reports are available from the Federal Transit Administration for Michigan’s largest urban bus systems, not one of them raised as much as 20 percent of their operating expenses from fare revenues. The largest systems, those responsible for carrying the majority of Michigan’s public bus passengers, fell well short.
For example, fares as a share of operating expenses for SMART, the system for the Detroit suburbs, and DDOT, the city of Detroit’s system, were less than 12 percent. The figure for the Lansing area’s Capital Area Transportation Authority was less than 15 percent. "The Rapid," serving Grand Rapids, was less than 15 percent; the Flint Mass Transportation Authority was less than 16 percent; and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority was less than 14 percent.
Where does the other 80-plus percent of the funding come from?
About one-third of these total public bus operating expenses came from the state’s Comprehensive Transportation Fund — a mass transit subsidy carved out of the state’s annual road budget. Like the rest of this budget, nearly all CTF funding comes from federal and state motor fuel taxes and state vehicle registration fees. The money for the CTF that’s taken from this pool of transportation dollars is a redistribution of wealth from the state’s car and truck drivers to its transit agencies. Vehicle owners and drivers pay substantially more for rides they may never take on public buses than do the riders themselves.
So, while the taxpayers of Commerce Township, Milford and those other 36 "opt out" communities may have dodged a vote that could cost them even more for bus service that they do not use, they are still - like the rest of us - paying a lot for trips they don't take.