Earlier this month, the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) revealed a plan that would reduce service on several city bus routes and suspend three neighborhood routes: the Clairmount, Junction and Tireman routes.
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Damarius Bryant, 17, takes the Tireman bus from the city’s west side — where he lives — to attend Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the east side. He’s not surprised the bus line is facing the ax.
“Every time I get on (the Tireman bus), it’s damn near empty,” Bryant said. “I don’t like waiting on the bus because then I’m standing out here by myself if it’s running late.”
Bryant said he’s never seen more than three people on the bus at a time, including the bus driver. That said, he does not want to see his route cut.
“If they don’t have enough buses, or drivers, or whatever, that’s just another thing (riders) have to get used to,” he said.
Kristin Lukowski, the marketing and outreach coordinator for DDOT, said the Tireman and Clairmount routes have about 70 passengers a day while the Junction route averages 10.
Low ridership is the primary reason DDOT officials gave for suggesting these routes be suspended. All three routes account for less than 1 percent of DDOT daily riders, according to Lukowski.
Back at the Sept. 1 public hearing about service cuts, Steve Partinick, the executive manager for service development and scheduling with DDOT, said the department’s proposed new schedule is an attempt to provide riders with a better experience.
“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 during the public hearing.
Gwendolyn Johnson, 67, rode the Tireman bus for the first time this week because her car is in the shop. Johnson said she had never seen a city bus so empty in the middle of the day.
“I guess I can’t speak to what it’s normally like, since I don’t normally take this bus, but if the bus keeps coming and no one gets on it, it makes sense to cut that line,” Johnson said.
However, Johnson — a born and raised Detroiter — said she doesn’t want to “downplay” the inconvenience that losing the three bus routes could cause less-able riders.
“Luckily, there’s other routes near (the Tireman bus stop on Grand River and Lothrop) that can take people from place to place,” she said. “If there weren’t, a whole lot of people on the west side would be out of luck.”
Ted Tansley of the Detroit People’s Platform Transit Justice Team said, given the low ridership numbers, cutting the routes makes sense. However, he warns that cutting service is a “slippery slope.”
“We don’t know for certain if the low ridership is something that started during or before the (COVID-19) pandemic, and we don’t know the actual cause for the low rider numbers,” Tansley said. “Because of that, it can be dangerous to use this model of cutting service since that logic can be used to eventually keep cutting resources from a much-needed transportation system.”
Tansley said he also is concerned with DDOT’s plans to notify the public.
“We don’t know if those riders will know their alternatives or even be able to access those alternatives,” Tansley said. “It’s scary to think that riders will be left in the cold and in the dark about changes to services they rely on.”
Lukowski said DDOT is getting the word out about the proposed changes to service.
“Passengers will be informed with signage at bus stops and on coaches, announcements on the DDOT website and social media channels, and paper brochures and fliers,” Lukowski said in an email to BridgeDetroit.
DDOT’s changes are expected to take effect Nov. 15.
Darryl White, another lifelong Detroiter, was riding the Tireman bus this week. He said he first heard about the proposed cuts by watching the news.
“No one on the bus or at the station was talking about it,” White said. “I just happened to catch it on the news a couple of weeks ago.”
White said despite the low ridership numbers, the cuts will undoubtedly cause some hardship for older Detroiters.
“Even though this bus was nearly empty when I got on,” said White. “There’s no way this won’t have a big impact on older people who have a tough time getting around the city as is.”