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Public transit groups have hopes for federal funding from new administration

A DDOT bus in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Snyder discussed DDOT busses during his townhall meeting online Wednesday.

President Joe Biden's long-time reliance on Amtrak to get between his home and work in Washington, D.C is well-known.

And Pete Buttigieg, the man Biden has nominated for U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, says he hopes to carve out $1.5 billion for public transit across the U.S.

Federal help for public transit in Michigan from the incoming administration would be a much-needed boon, according to Matthew Carpenter, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Carpenter is also Chair of the Board of the Michigan Public Transit Association.

"We're excited as an industry to see that kind of proposal coming from the Biden Administration, and it's an exciting time," says Carpenter. "And when we look at climate change, and the need for equity in our society, and also frankly, competition from places like China which is doing great things with infrastructure, it's really welcome to see the federal government stepping into such a strong role."

Carpenter says his priority for federal grants would be for help with construction projects throughout the state. In Washtenaw County, he'd like the AATA to be able to replace and expand the aging Ypsilanti Transit Center, and expand the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor. In addition, he says AATA needs a new bus garage -- one that could be constructed with electric buses in mind for the future.

Sean Hammond is Policy Director at the Michigan Environmental Council. 

He says federal money could help jumpstart the long-proposed Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, to link Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties in a public transit network. That's after a ballot initiative for residents to pay for the RTA failed to pass.

Hammond says the RTA would help the region's economy and environment, as well as helping lower-income residents of the four counties commute to jobs.

"Giving people options so they don't have to essentially pay a car tax. When there's no other option of getting around that's fully funded and available to you, you are then forced to purchase a car," he says.

Hammond says federal money could also help create more high-speed rail lines in Michigan. 

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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