Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday announced the approval of four emergency contracts to keep paratransit services at “full strength” for the next six months while the city works to find a more permanent vendor to manage transportation for residents with a disability.
The City Council voted 4-4 to reject a five-year $49 million contract with Transdev, a French company that provides 70% of the city’s paratransit services but has come under fire from members of the Americans with Disabilities Act community over poor service. Without a new contract, rides available to Detroiters would have dramatically reduced when Transdev’s existing deal expires at the end of this year, putting the city in violation of federal law. Duggan said emergency action was needed because the council is on recess until January.
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“With four more transportation providers, there will be full operations – 1,000 rides a day continuously for the next six months – and that gives us time to put a permanent plan in place,” Duggan said at a Thursday press conference. “For anybody that was concerned before: This issue has been resolved.”
The $5.8 million deal was struck with Checker Cab Co. and three companies that previously agreed to subcontract with Transdev under the contract rejected by the City Council – Texas-based Big Star Transit, LLC, Oak Park-based Moe Transportation, and Detroit-based Delray United Action Council. The companies will be paid $67 per hour to run the service, Duggan said. The City Council previously approved a five-year $16 million contract with People’s Express to provide the remaining 30% of rides.
Detroiters can call (313) 208-7363 to schedule rides. The Detroit Department of Transportation is assuming responsibility for scheduling reservations, dispatching rides and responding to complaints.
Advocates for Detroit’s ADA community say Transdev is routinely late, drops riders off in the wrong locations and sometimes even harasses residents. Duggan said he was “extremely angry” about Transdev’s poor service, which prompted DDOT to bring administration of paratransit services in-house. However, the mayor criticized council members who voted against the $49 million Transdev contract, arguing there was “misinformation” about the company’s role. Transdev has not responded to requests for comment about the contract.
“There was anger out there at Transdev under the old system that was justified, but under the new system, Transdev wasn’t going to do the scheduling. Transdev wasn’t going to do customer service. Trans that wasn’t going to bring you the buses,” Duggan said.
DDOT Director Mikel Oglesby said measures are in place to ensure the new companies are performing up to standards set by the city. This includes weekly performance reporting and monitoring of customer complaints.
“We made a promise some time ago that we were going to not only change the format that paratransit was set up with currently, but we’re also going to enhance the rider experience,” Oglesby said Thursday. “I stand behind it, and I will tell you that service will get better.”
Duggan sparred with council members after the Transdev contract failed, calling the elected body “dysfunctional.” Council President Mary Sheffield issued a response on Twitter framing the mayor’s comment as “an outdated type of bully politics.”
“It is truly a travesty to arrive at a point that a fellow elected official deems it necessary to attack members of Council for faithfully discharging their duties and representing their constituents,” Sheffield said earlier this week. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Federal Transit Administration sent letters to city officials on Nov. 17 and Nov. 30 warning that reducing paratransit services is illegal. The letters said Detroit would risk federal funding and open itself to a Department of Justice investigation and civil lawsuits. Duggan said this required him to invoke emergency powers which allow for procurements without prior approval of the council.
Still, Duggan said the city will pay roughly $1 million more to provide paratransit services for the next six months compared to what Detroit would have paid Transdev to provide the services.
The Detroit Office of Procurement is starting a new process of bidding to find a long-term paratransit vendor, which could take up to six months. Duggan said the previous bidding process resulted in only two eligible companies – Transdev and People’s Express. The mayor said he can’t guarantee that Transdev won’t be considered for contracts in the future.
“I don’t know who’s going to bid,” Duggan said. “The City of Detroit is going to honor the procurement ordinance and people are entitled to bid. People will be evaluated when the bids come in and we’ll have a long-term answer. My guess is this week that Transdev is not really inclined to have much to do with the City of Detroit.”