The RTA was created by the Michigan Legislature through Public Act No. 387 of 2012. A 10-member board that is appointed for three-year terms by the county executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, the chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, the Mayor of Detroit, and the Governor of Michigan governs it. The Governor’s appointee serves as chair, without a vote.

The purpose of the RTA is to plan for and coordinate public transportation in the four-county region, including the City of Detroit, and to deliver rapid transit in a region where none exists. It is the entity through which transit providers must apply for state and federal funds, and through which those funds are allocated to providers. The RTA is also responsible for developing a Regional Master Transit Plan to guide present and future service and is empowered to put funding questions on the ballot for public vote.