The Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) sought public input on proposed reductions to city bus service at two public hearings earlier this month. The proposed changes would temporarily suspend three bus routes and cut frequency to 18 routes. Officials say reducing frequency will make the bus service more reliable overall.
Detroiters who rely on bus service aren’t buying it.
Detroit resident Calley Wang said at the same public hearing that DDOT needs to publish a plan for fully restoring service and a plan for hiring and retaining more bus drivers “as soon as possible.”
“Do everything you can to avoid completely cutting certain routes,” Wang said. “There’s a lot of people here for whom that half a mile walk can’t be done.”
Lorraine Stewart spoke during the public comment period of one of the hearings and said, “There’s too many people not getting to work on time.”
About 85,000 people ride the bus daily in Detroit, according to DDOT.
Though thousands rely on bus service, a Transportation Riders United analysis of DDOT schedules concludes that three out of 10 Detroiters are left stranded by the bus and the system is in crisis.
Steve Partinick, the executive manager for service development and scheduling with DDOT, said the department doesn’t have enough drivers to meet the City’s service needs.
“We’re trying to solve our personnel problems by actively recruiting throughout the metro area for both bus operators and bus mechanics,” Patrinick said. “Our bus service is scheduled to be frequent, convenient and reliable, but we have not been able to meet that promise because we do not operate things exactly the way they are on the schedule.”
Patrinick said DDOT plans to start restoring service levels in early 2022 as a “first step in a complete reimagining” of public transit in Detroit.
“We will examine our whole system, where people are using it, where people aren’t using it, and we will talk to people about their needs and about what they think could be better and we will reimagine the system,” he said.
Patrinick didn’t give details on the plan to reimagine transit in Detroit in 2022.
Under this proposal, DDOT would suspend service to the 11 Clairmount, 26 Junction and 47 Tireman routes. If adopted, these proposed changes would take effect Nov. 15.
DDOT officials said the three routes that would be suspended under this plan account for 1 percent of average daily boarding. Patrinick said 99.2 percent of riders on these routes will have access to an alternative service.
The need for more bus drivers is not new for DDOT. Mikel Oglesby, the executive director of transit for the City of Detroit, said at a July meeting that DDOT hasn’t had enough drivers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. At that time, DDOT needed an additional 100 drivers.
Hakim Berry, the chief operating officer for the City of Detroit, told BridgeDetroit that DDOT has about 411 drivers currently, but the department is budgeted for 500 drivers. Berry said the need for more drivers is a constant in public transportation.
“We were always recruiting more drivers, but we’ve never allowed that to get in the way of service,” Berry said.
Renard Monczunski is the transit justice organizer with the Detroit People’s Platform, a grassroots organization that works to build racial and economic equity in Detroit. Monczunski said this proposal will have “very severe” effects on Detroit families.
“Residents are already struggling with income, jobs and other issues, but now they’re having their only form of transportation jeopardized, and it’ll be even more unreliable, and even more infrequent,” Monczunski said.
Monczunski says this proposal will have bigger consequences for Black and Brown Detroiters. According to the Detroit People’s Platform, about 87 percent of DDOT passengers are Black.
Monczunski said he is also concerned about the residents living in neighborhoods most affected by the proposed bus route changes and suspensions.
“There are people living in southwest Detroit who, if the Junction route is suspended, no longer have as much access to important government buildings downtown,” he said. “I don’t see how that is justifiable.”
Michael Cunningham is a taxi cab driver and transit activist in Detroit. He also has been a frequent DDOT rider for “eight to 10 years.” He said DDOT needs to pay drivers more money.
DDOT “needs to just give the current drivers a retention bonus. Say, ‘If you stay here another three years, I’ll give you $1,500.’ Then, to get new drivers, give them a $3,000 signing bonus. Put that $3,000 in big letters all over billboards in the city,” he said.
Cunningham also suggested that DDOT use the audio system on the city’s buses to further advertise open driver positions.
DDOT officials say the department has held career fairs and recruiting events to get more drivers, but frequent bus rider Steven Boyle said during public comment at that Sept. 1 meeting that no one at the Rosa Parks Transit Center downtown knew about the need for more bus drivers or the proposed cuts to service.
“There is no audible broadcast of this hearing, such that the riders that are here who may not have internet access, can access this meeting,” Boyle said.
Here is a full list of the proposed frequency changes in weekday bus service:
|Route||Existing (Scheduled) Frequency in Minutes||Proposed Frequency in Minutes|
|3. Grand River||15||20|
|5. Van Dyke||20-30||30|
|7. Seven Mile||12-15||20|
|17. Eight Mile||15-25||20-30|
If you’re interested in working for DDOT as a bus driver, learn more about the job here. Detroiters can give feedback to DDOT by emailing DDOT customer service at email@example.com or by calling (313) 933-1300.
Correction: This post has been updated to clarify the name of the organization Transportation Riders United.