By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
INDEPENDENCE TWP. — On Oct. 24, the Independence Township Board of Trustees voted at their regular meeting in favor of requesting a pilot program for transportation services from Oakland County and the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA).
NOTA responded Oct. 27 that it is willing to discuss. Township officials are currently in the process setting up joint meetings with NOTA and Oakland County officials.
“On Aug. 9, 2022, the township board voted on a resolution opposing the county transit millage,” said Independence Township Supervisor Jose Aliaga. “In light of its passage, the township needs to explore all available options for transit, especially now that our residents are contributing to the millage funding this service. Our residents have a high standard of service expectation, and we are committed to ensuring that this expectation is met, regardless of the service provider.”
In Nov. 2022, the transit millage was approved in Oakland County. Independence Township did not vote to support this millage. However, unlike the SMART millage, the township is unable to opt-out.
Throughout 2023, township staff and elected officials have engaged in ongoing discussions with Oakland County to find the most suitable transportation solution for the township.
Presently, Independence Township, in collaboration with Springfield Township and the City of the Village of Clarkston, provides an extensive para-transit service. This service entails providing over 10,000 rides annually to residents of these three communities, with some extended service to locations like Meijer, area hospitals, and doctor’s offices.
“As the administrators of the para-transit program, it is of utmost importance that we ensure the county presents a clear-cut plan and demonstrates they can effectively operate at the same level of service currently provided by the township,” said Independence Township Senior Community Center Supervisor Jennifer Angus.
A key point of consideration during these discussions has been the prospect of the township continuing to provide its service while receiving reimbursement from the county through the millage.
At this time, the county has committed to reimbursing the township for 2023. Any future transit millage funding will be directed to entities like NOTA, and the township will need to establish a contract with NOTA.
Over the past several months, NOTA has indicated to township staff that they lack the capacity to fully take over the para-transit services without their drivers, vehicles, and dispatch services.
According to township officials, this presents a significant concern from the township’s perspective, as the residents have come to expect and rely on the high-quality para-transit services that the township has consistently provided for over two decades through its Department of Parks, Recreation, and Seniors
In light of these considerations, the township board decided to request a pilot program with NOTA.
This pilot program aims to assess NOTA’s capability to assume responsibility for para-transit services, survey the riders to ensure they continue to receive the same level of service quality, gather feedback from staff to understand their experience, and request the county to reimburse the township for the costs associated with its para-transit services if the pilot program is found to be unsatisfactory.