Former MEC staffer is driving force behind ambitious plan for regional transit in Southeast Michigan
Ben Stupka is tired. That’s no surprise—he and his wife, Laura, have a two-year-old son and a daughter born in August.
But there’s another reason Stupka yearns for a nap. When he isn’t changing diapers or reading bedtime stories, he has another baby to nurture.
As Planning and Financial Analysis Manager for the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan, Stupka led the development of a master plan to finally provide coordinated, high-quality public transportation for Metro Detroit, which today is widely recognized as one of the most transit-poor major cities in the country. A ballot measure in November will ask voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties to fund the plan with a 1.2 mill property tax over 20 years.
Now Stupka—along with MEC and many partners in Southeast Michigan—is working to engage and educate the public about the benefits of rapid, reliable, regional transit.
That part is relatively easy, Stupka says, because the shortcomings of the current system are so clear.
Metro Detroiters spend $69 a year per capita to support public transportation. In Atlanta, it’s $119. Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul spend $177. Seattle: $471. “We have fundamentally underfunded transit in this region,” Stupka says. “The results of that are pretty obvious.”
Nearly three quarters of people who work in the City of Detroit live outside the city limits, yet direct bus service between downtown and the suburbs is available only for six hours on weekdays, and not at all on weekends. The lack of coordination between the region’s transit providers means some commuters have to change buses at county lines. Detroit and Ann Arbor are completely disconnected by transit. The list goes on.
“Anybody who’s been anywhere with a good transit system looks around and says, ‘It’s so strange that we don’t have this,’” Stupka says
Some residents say they won’t use the improved transit services, but Stupka sees a light bulb go on when he tells them to think about their aging parents who might not be able to drive much longer, or nurses working third shift at Beaumont Hospital without a car. Others start to pay attention when he notes that transit projects typically return $4 for every $1 invested. “And frankly, with some people it’s, ‘Wouldn’t you love to go to a Tigers game and have a couple beers and not worry about driving home?’” Read more