Michigan's aging drivers need better Detroit-area transit, AARP says

Group is concerned for aging population of drivers


DETROIT - The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which boasts 1.4 million Michigan members, is speaking out in support of connecting Metro Detroit with enhanced public transit because it wants its members in the area to have more transportation options as they age.

The national non profit organization, which represents citizens 50 years old and up, said its studies show people outlive their ability to drive by seven to 10 years, and more people will find themselves in this situation over the next decade. 

“Without reliable transit options, that can have a major impact on a person’s independence and quality of life," said Paula Cunningham, AARP Michigan’s state director.

The AARP forecasts one out of four drivers will be 65 or older by 2030 with the number of drivers aged 85 and older four to five times greater than today. 

The 2010 census showed that 14 percent of Michigan residents are age 65 or older, and this age group is the fastest growing demographic in the state. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, records in 2015 showed there were 1,382,133 licensed drivers age 65 or older. That’s compared to 1,049,582 license holders of the same ages in 2005.

View: Michigan’s Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families

Coalition for Transit calling for improvements

AARP Michigan is one of many organizations to join A Coalition for Transit (ACT), which is a group of transit supporters raising awareness for a plan to connect Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The Area Agencies on Aging throughout the region, Jewish Family Services and the Alzheimer’s Association's Greater Michigan Chapter are other organizations supporting regional transit.

Too many seniors in southeast Michigan cannot rely on transit to get where they need to go: from doctors’ offices and visiting family and friends to entertainment and cultural opportunities,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokesperson for ACT. “Disconnected transit across the four counties hinders independence for seniors and leaves many stuck. AARP has noted that availability of transit alternatives as the second greatest challenge to older adults behind healthcare access, which is also impacted by regional public transit.”

Rossman-McKinney pointed to AARP studies that show compared to similar-aged people who drive, 15 percent of those who don’t drive make fewer trips to the doctor, 59 percent make fewer trips to shop and 65 percent make fewer trips to visit family and friends.

"We live differently than we did before we planned for the automobile,” said Rodney Harrell, PhD, director, livable communities. “That can result in isolation. People are stuck. They might not be able to get to their families and social networks."

The AARP Michigan is in support of enhancing public transit in southeast Michigan, but spokesman Mark Hornbeck said they have not reviewed the Regional Transit Authority's $4.6 billion plan and do not support its specific plan to raise revenue. 

While AARP is a member of the coalition, and we support calling attention to the need for transit improvements in the Metro Detroit area to improve quality of life for older drivers, we have not endorsed any specific plan to raise revenue."

RTA's transit plan will be on the ballot

Meanwhile, despite some uncertainty, the Regional Transit Authority board finalized a vote earlier this month to allow the proposal for a transit plan on the ballot this November. Voters in Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties will decide whether to implement a $4.6 billion public transportation plan for the region. 

The exact language on the ballot will read:

A Proposal Authorizing the Reional transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA) to Levy an Assessment

The proposal would authorize the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan
(RTA) to levy within Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties a property tax

  • at a rate of 1.2 mills ($1.20 per $1,000 of taxable value); 
  • for 20 years beginning in 2016 and ending in 2035;
  • that may not be increased, renewed, or used for other purposes without direct voter approval; and
  • to be used upon the affirmative vote of an RTA board member from each RTA member jurisdiction for the purpose of construction and operation of a public transportation system connecting Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties, including rapid transit bus routes across county lines, specialized service for senior citizens and people with disabilities, commuter rail, airport express service, and other public transportation purposes permitted by law, consistent with RTA bylaws and subject to the limitations of the Regional Transit Authority Act. If this new additional assessment is approved and levied, revenue will be disbursed to the RTA. It is estimated that $160,907,285 will be collected in the first year.

Should this assessment be approved?

YES [ ]
NO [ ]

That's what you'll see when you go to vote in November. According to the RTA, the millage required to implement the $4.6 billion master plan is proposed as a 20-year millage (2017-2036) at 1.2 mills. This millage would be applied in addition to other possible state and federal funding sources, and would be about $7.92 per month for the average home in southeast Michigan. 

Gov. Rick Snyder released the following statement regarding the agreement reached by the RTA:

The Regional Transit Authority is about getting people to jobs and making sure seniors and those with disabilities can live independently. It's also about growing our economy to benefit everyone. I had a chance to speak with regional leaders about the importance of the plan and I want to thank them for coming together and reaching an agreement for the good of Southeast Michigan. Regional transit is vital to this region and to our entire state. I look forward to future steps being taken to ensure Michiganders have solid access to transportation across the state."

Will voters in the quad-county region agree? We'll found out Nov. 8.


As of Monday night, our ClickOnDetroit poll here was showing most of the respondents who said they wouldn't vote for this plan are between the ages of 55-64. The most support comes from people aged 25-34, according to this unofficial survey of ClickOnDetroit users: 

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