Myths & Truths
Myths are great. Debunking them presents the perfect chance to prove ourselves.
Mercifully, attitudes toward public transit have improved in the last 20 years or so. It's a shift that's in the company of some other positive developments – healthier central cities, falling crime rates, smarter interaction with the environment.
These trendlines are linked – there's oodles of data out there to demonstrate how. Still, anti-everything attitudes never go away completely. Nor should they – healthy skepticism is a good thing. Though many "skeptical" ideas are outdated and/or ridiculous, we like to remember what we're up against. And for any "breakthroughs" put forth by anti-transit crusaders, we're happy to return for another match. Go ahead. Question us. Bring it.
Of the themes discussed on this page, some overlap with our Organizational Principles. See what we're all about. Then, head back over here to consider an informed view on a subject still swirling in misinformation.
"Rail is a costly extravagance that we can't afford. "
Once upon a time, dozens of metropolitan areas took that stance. Roads and highways, it was universally believed, were the only worthwhile transportation expenditures. And so the cycle began: build roads, widen roads, and build more new roads further and further out.
A generation into this costly, tail-chasing pursuit, a shocking concept emerged: roads aren't the only way to transport people. Daring to innovate, a few cities embraced this new thinking – they introduced rail systems. Having built enough freeways in the 1960s and 1970s, the time was ripe to create other options. Commuters, businesses and visitors emphatically agreed – new rail systems delivered alternatives to driving, powerful impetus for real estate development, and welcoming access to a city's best places. That's a lot of bang for the buck.
Southeast Michigan was the last major metropolitan area to see the light. But we're catching up quickly – and Freshwater Railway is a cornerstone of the strategy. Already, we've attracted more than $450 Million in private investment at or near our rail stations. Our local transit services have fueled true urban living options in Detroit. And we're just getting warmed up.
In modern metropolitan areas, choice in transportation isn't a luxury – it's a necessity.
"This is just big gubmint wasting more of my money. "
Try telling that to inhabitants of cutting-edge metropolitan areas – you know, the ones with bustling central cities, a constant influx of new ideas and an ability to weather economic fluctuation.
Investing in transit isn't about spending for spending's sake. It's about staying competitive with other regions. Today, growing businesses consider a long list of factors when choosing where to locate – it's not a simple matter of sniffing for rock-bottom taxes.
To prospective newcomers, effective transit is a key selling point. Take a look at promotional materials for Washington, Atlanta, Dallas – they all prominently feature their transit systems as assets that enhance the business climate. In any major city, you'd be hard-pressed to find a business leader who opposes public transit. Make no mistake – all of these cities pay for their transit systems through some form of taxation (yep, we're not afraid to use the T-word), but the the return-on-investment is handsome.
Freshwater Railway is part of our new toolkit. Now, the glaring absence of a transit system no longer hampers our potential. We have a long way to go, but we're on track to wiser, more sustainable transportation investments. The local economy will thank us for generations to come.
"This should be left to the private sector. "
How long did Southeast Michigan not have a true regional transit system? That's exactly how long this need was left to the private sector.
That makes perfect sense: private enterprise exists to make money. Transit, on the other hand, is in the same league as roads, schools, public safety, justice, and many other vital services – it isn't profitable.
But it is valuable. To private citizens, transit means freedom, access, and an alternative to the unpredictables of driving. For private business, a strong public transit system promotes development opportunities, greater market exposure, and more choices for employees. Transit itself is a public investment, but it opens the door to a more robust private sector in countless ways.
In the universe of trains and buses, purely private operators do a great job with niche markets – charters, airport services, entertainment shuttles, so on. We're fully supportive of these endeavors – private or public, we're all in this together. Convenient, comprehensive regional transit, however, is more complex by many degrees. An investment in transit is an investment in our community – and our economy. That's nothing to be ashamed of.
"I shouldn't pay for a service that I won't use. "
Even if you never set foot on a Freshwater Railway train or bus, you're still reaping the benefits of our service. A healthier economy, a greener environment, and reduced traffic volumes are all proven byproducts of public transit – and we know you'll appreciate those improvements.
Beyond the immediate positives, think of all the future expenses we're avoiding altogether. With effective transit alternatives, we spend less to maintain roads. Because transit accommodates commuters much more efficiently than freeways, we're no longer baited into adding lanes – to the tune of millions per mile – every 10-15 years.
Still not convinced? We could list a lot of other reasons why transit is worth it – some obvious, others more philosophical. But don't take our word for it, because it's easy to figure out for yourself. Take a ride on Freshwater Railway, or any other great transit system, and ask yourself honestly "what city wouldn't want this?"
"It won't work in Michigan. "
Stop saying that. Most of Michigan's problems stem directly from that sort of closed-minded, can't-do attitude.
After the knee-jerk excuses, Michigan's challenges aren't much different from any other state. Money is tight, politics are touchy, people like their cars and not everyone is excited about doing something new – especially where public dollars are involved.
Long before we did, other states and cities decisively overcame the culture of "no". Let's face it – except for older East Coast cities, virtually every place in the country describes itself as "in love with the automobile". But that didn't stop Houston, Denver, Phoenix or Los Angeles from developing wildly successful rail systems. Not to eliminate cars, but to offer realistic alternatives.
Freshwater Railway is a product of positive energy. We've harnessed the advantages, we've enlisted the right people, we've kept the effort free of petty politics and enormous egos. And with that all, we evolved from "why can't we" to how can we.
"I like my suburban lifestyle and I don't want to be told how to live. "
No one wants to be told how to live. And if you prefer suburbs, you're in luck – single-family homes, strip malls and generous highways dominate Southeast Michigan's landscape. No one – not us, not anyone – is plotting to take those things away.
But what if you don't prefer suburbs? Despite the conventional wisdom, placing retail businesses and residential dwellings on the same block is not a recipe for disaster. In fact, some people actually like it that way. Mixed-use spaces allow us to walk to the corner store, to mingle with our neighbors and to break up the monotony of work-home-car. As for transit, it's the lifeblood that lets mixed-use neighborhoods flourish. When we're not using so much space for our cars, we use more space for ourselves.
Since the 1950s, we have heavily subsidized suburban living – no, those new roads and water mains and schools at 45 Mile Road are not products of the free market. Decades in, we had effectively oblitered true city living – even as a choice for those who wanted it. Native children of Southeast Michigan weren't interested in fighting about the causes of urban disinvestment – they simply picked up and moved to Chicago and New York.
This – not tax rates, not even the job market – was the single largest source of Michigan's infamous "brain drain". Talented, idea-rich young adults spend four years on vibrant, open-minded college campuses. It was absurd to expect that, after college, they would all choose a life of subdivisions, office parks, and driving between them in gas-guzzling isolation cocoons.
At Freshwater Railway, we play an active role in cultivating mixed-use. Not just for yuppies, but also for empty nesters, seniors, and – gasp! – families. If suburbs are your style, keep on keeping on. But now, those who'd rather live in a more urban setting have that freedom – without abandoning Michigan.
"We need to add lanes, not add trains. "
Traffic congestion is a fact of life in large metropolitan areas – what else should we expect after building our lifestyle around the automobile?
While traffic in Southeast Michigan doesn't compare to other areas, we still can't build our way out of congestion. When new lanes open, additional traffic clogs them right away. If you build it, they will come. Even the loudest proponents for widening admit that new lanes will "speed" the commute by only a minute or two. And saving commute time isn't like saving money – you can't put the minute from each drive in your piggybank and buy a whole new day.
Some politicians have touted wider freeways as an economic development tool – a far better one, in their view, than a real transit system. We just don't buy that. Business leaders in Chicago probably can't tell you how many lanes make up the Dan Ryan, but they can tell you that their employees choose Metra or the 'L' for their commute.
Freshwater Railway is now providing Southeast Michigan with these same dual benefits: increased capacity and economic development.
"We already have two dysfunctional transit systems and we don't need another. "
Freshwater Railway is its own entity; we cannot speak for other transit organizations.
What we can do is clarify things. First, contrary to popular belief, Southeast Michigan is not the only metropolitan area with multiple transit providers. If anything, we're rare in that we have so few.
Second, each transit operator in Southeast Michigan serves a completely different function. One is a local city bus system, another is a longer-distance suburban bus system. And us, we're a regional rail system, with a handful of bus routes to fill in gaps. We have taken the lead on regional coordination – for bus services and rail services both. Even with multiple entities, there's in fact very little overlap or duplication. As demonstrated elsewhere, this is an effective configuration for a large area with diverse transportation needs.
Finally, Freshwater Railway is, well, a fresh start. We bring a spirit and an enthusiasm for transit that's generally been absent from the implementation level. We look forward to working with our neighboring systems to improve transit in all corners of Southeast Michigan.
"All public services should be contracted out to private companies. "
We opt for common sense over extremism. That's why we don't see contracting or outsourcing or privatization as all-or-nothing matters.
To start, our very existence is a sales bonanza for private enterprise. We purchase thousands of items from hundreds of vendors. To ensure prudent use of the public dollar, we do it with freakish transparency.
Then, we do outsource portions of our service where it makes sense. For instance, private charter companies operate all of our Connector Bus routes. These companies feature facilities, equipment, and established business models that make them a good fit to deliver this service. They're all homegrown Michigan outfits, to boot.
Some of our service – one rail line and all Detroit-based bus routes – we operate through our wholly owned subsidiary, H2O Operations Group. Thanks to our dedicated, efficiency-thirsty staff, operating these services in-house is both practical and economical.
There will always be private companies to claim they can do it for less. But low bids eventually bottom out – and you get what you pay for. While respectable private operators are out there, our in-house services measure favorably in key performance areas. Our product is too important to gamble on underbidding, absentee management and/or cut corners.
Today, an alarming number of public entities consist only of executives and purchasing agents. With all due respect to those professions, we see a long-term advantage in knowing our own business from the board room to the driver's seat. After all, we are a transit system – we don't ever want to lose our head for transit operations.
"We already have the Woodward Light Rail study. "
Woodward Avenue plans represent a different application for a different need. Proposals for Woodward are light rail, a train that serves more stops, operates very frequently, and is well suited to a dense urban environment.
Freshwater Railway is commuter rail. We serve longer, regional trips that cross municipal boundaries. Our stations are spaced further apart, our trains operate at higher speeds, and some of our routes run exclusively at peak commute times.
Freshwater Railway also includes a bus component. Largely neglected in other conversations, buses are a critical piece of the transit puzzle. No matter how many rail lines we build, we'll always need a bus system for the deepest level of connectivity. We're investing in bus routes to jump-start human-scale, car-optional lifestyle choices in "off-Woodward" neighborhoods. You'll find the friendly, attractive character of our bus services unlike anything you've heard about transit in Detroit.
When it comes to transit modes, one is not better than the others. They are all pillars of a fully developed transit network. No part of that network functions optimally until all the modes are working together.