Why attend an RTA Rally?

LarsonCrowd2WebLast Saturday, I took part in a rally to support the creation of a SE Wisconsin’s RTA. RTA stands for Regional Transit Authority, a governing body that funds, coordinates, and champions transit systems in a region. Most metropolitan areas have one. Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin does not.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with sustainability?


Remember, at the core, sustainability is about systems thinking and understanding how everything is interconnected. The sustainability of a city, region, its inhabitants, and its companies is dependent upon the infrastructure that holds it together. Transit is one of the biggest and most chided of city/regional infrastructures.  It is as important as the electricity grid, sewer, and water infrastructures. Without adequate funding, planning, and resource utilization strategies the infrastructure systems break down. When they break down so do communities, business, and regional economies.

When they break down, those regions become blighted, ignored, and over looked. One of the speakers at the rally, Tom Rave, spoke of investor groups looking to invest in the upper Midwest last year and targeted Madison and Northern suburbs of Chicago, but when asked what about Milwaukee, they responded that Milwaukee didn’t have a regional transit system, which is critical to sustainability and viability of business enterprises.

Public transit is all about sustainability and green. It has social, economic, environment, and cultural  (SEEC) impact.

  • Social level:  It is about connecting the city and providing a means for people to get to work and interact with their community.  Beyond providing worker transportation, it provides a much needed service for those unable to drive/travel by other means (elderly, infirm, handicap, blind, wheelchair bound, etc.). It lowers the cost of living by providing an alternative to rising fuel costs (economic benefit as well)
  • Economic level:  It is about providing workers to businesses, business development, investment in regions, and employment in managing, construction, and maintaining the system.  It attracts visitors and supports cultural events.  It is about short-term and long-term regional economic viability.
  • Environmental level:  Public transit can: improve air quality; reduce greenhouse gas emissions;  save energy;  and facilitate compact development,  conserving land and decreasing travel demand.
  • Cultural level:  It is a fundamental infrastructure holding the community together as much as water, sewer, and power.  It conserves land and decreases sprawl.

Despite the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor being one of the fastest growing regions in the country over the past decade, the region’s transit systems funding and services have been cut and thereby ridership have been on decline at a time when transit systems are needed most. A Regional Transit Authority provides a dedicated funding source and regional framework for buses that are needed to make transit systems viable and thereby region sustainable by connecting people to jobs and growing new jobs, sparking economic growth, and manage sprawl.   In 2008, Milwaukee voters voted to create the RTA and fund it through a sales tax levee, however enacting it has been stalled by state legislature. If you are a Wisonsin resident – Call your congressperson.

Greek philosophy says – a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.

Copyright ©2009 Matthew Rochte, Opportunity Sustainability℠ – Share with attribution

Opportunity Sustainability℠ is a Midwest-based sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm specializing in green innovation and seeing opportunities where others see burdens. Matthew Rochte LEED AP, an experienced, operations-based sustainability consultant, works with company management to navigate and realize the opportunities in taking their company green and growing sustainably.

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  • Megan Carr

    Nice outline on some the quadruple bottom-line benefits of transit. While the social and cultural results are often more difficult to measure, their impacts are far-reaching and no less important.

  • From Strategy for Sustainability, a new book by Adam Werbach –
    According to the Texas Transportation Institute, “Traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities of all sizes, creating a $78Billion annual drain on the US economy in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel – that’s 105 million weeks of vacation and 58 fully loaded supertankers.” (source)

  • First of all thanks for joining our rally. I’m sorry we did not meet at that time. Your remarks here are perceptive. I’m concerned Milwaukeans do not understand transit as residents of more vibrant cities do; everyone rides in a city like New York or Chicago; in smaller cities a wider variety of and more people ride. There is an interesting scene in the PBS piece about rail in Charlotte, showing young minority children happily boarding the train side by side with the suits. Getting people to try the bus is the best way to break this down, but the system cannot fix itself by fares alone. Dedicated funding and regional thinking is our next big step.

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