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Regional Transit Authority Tax Proposal To Be Decided on November 8th

Voters in Washtenaw and three other counties will decide the Regional Transit Authority proposal  that, if approved, would create a mass transit system in Southeast Michigan.  Their goal is to make the region more connected and accessible. Whether that is of benefit to local businesses is a matter of opinion. 

"Is there a guarantee? There is no guarantee right? Just shelling out taxes?"

That is K.P. Singh.  He's the co-owner of the Bandito's Mexican Restaurant in Ann Arbor.  He's against the 1.2 mill that would cost homeowners in Washtenaw County about $120 more a year for the next twenty years.  

K.P. gathers cups in the kitchen as we continue talking.

K.P.: "Just working hard you know, getting ready for the lunch rush. Hopefully we'll get one."
JORGE: ""Well, do you think more people coming in buses and things like that you wouldn't have to worry about that though? "
K.P.: "There are enough buses down the street right? They are usually half empty except five o'clock right? Then they are full."

If approved, the proposal would generate over $160 million in the first year to connect Washtenaw, Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne counties through public transportation.  By 2022, a commuter rail would connect Ann Arbor and Detroit.  But rapid transit bus routes could be used first by 2018.  They would connect Ann Arbor, Plymouth, and Livonia. 

There's a traffic jam outside of K.P.'s restaurant.

"There is too much traffic already in this town, too much construction traffic, too much this traffic. A lot of people's don't know how to drive. It's bad."

But not all business owners agree with K.P.  Ali Ramlawi from Jerusalem Garden in Ann Arbor wants the RTA proposal to go through.  It would help him when hiring employees.

"We are finding it a big challenge to find people who can afford to live in Ann Arbor and only make thirty or forty thousand dollars a year. It's relatively impossible."

Joe MalCoun is the CEO of the tech startup company Nutshell in Ann Arbor.  His business has been affected due to a lack of a mass transit system in Southeast Michigan.

"We recently had someone who we hired, they were living sort of in Oakland County and she quit after two weeks. She couldn't handle the commute. She was very upset about it. She loved her job, but she didn't see an opportunity to move in the near term, and she was spending like two hours each way to get to work."

Ann Arbor Spark is an organization dedicated to the economic prosperity of the greater Ann Arbor region.  They're not taking a stand when it comes to the RTA proposal but are supportive of transportation improvements that will make the area more competitive.  Paul Krutko is president and CEO.

"What we know is that young talent today by many, many surveys and many, many reports are not intended in driving cars or owning cars personally. And they are interested in having the kinds of transit opportunities and options that this plan will potentially offer."

Both the Oakland and Macomb County executives have been hesitant about fully supporting the $4.6 billion project because of the cost and because it may not provide service to all of their cities.  Bus rider Flavio DaCosta from Ann Arbor hopes that doesn't prevent the proposal from being approved because he wants more options.

"I think it's one of those build it and they will come. I would love to see more people on the public transit, I would like to see more routes, because it would nicer to use it even on the weekends and late nights or whatever."

Mark Teachout owns Café Olliein Ypsilanti.  He projects that his sales could go up between 10 and 20% if a mass transit system is created.

"I think people tend to go out and travel a little bit more when it's easier for them to get to a place. It's kind of a pain driving on the freeway, packed freeway and the traffic."

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority buses would be among the ones used for the regional connections.  If the proposal passes, Washtenaw County would generate $17 million a year in revenue for the RTA.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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