Says “hooligans” responsible after drivers refuse to roll, will not provide what mechanics need to fix buses
By Diane Bukowski
November 4, 2011
DETROIT— City residents awoke today to find no DDOT buses running. Drivers said they were afraid for their lives after several youths attacked a driver at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit yesterday afternoon. Police didn’t show up for 30 minutes, and security guards inside allegedly did nothing. The driver has 22 years with DDOT and four children.
“How would you like it if you were forced to lie on the ground of your bus with no way out while people are shooting up the bus?” another driver told television media.
Buses sat until late afternoon in the Coolidge and Gilbert Terminals, engines idling and “Not in Service” signs flashing, while drivers lingered in the yards.
At about 1:30 p.m. the Gilbert Terminal superintendent held a mass meeting with drivers to ensure them that Bing was about to go on the air to ask Detroiters not to blame bus drivers for long delays and other problems with bus service, and promise them a safe work environment.
Many appeared skeptical. One told VOD that the buses are also not safe because most need major repairs.
Bing ignored that issue during a 2 p.m. press conference held at the Rosa Parks center (see video of full press conference below). Instead, he targeted the city’s youth.
“There will be zero tolerance, ZERO TOLERANCE,” he said. “We are not going to allow these HOOLIGANS to take over our city and threaten our people. That is not going to happen. . . . I am so thankful we’ve got the resources from our police department, we are going to start taking care of these CRIMINALS out here.”
He said he would increase police presence but that he was still only “talking” with the mechanics’ union about their needs for more personnel, hours and parts. He said the crisis would not be resolved in “30 days” because it had been building for “20 to 30 years.” The City Council recently passed a resolution calling on Bing to provide the mechanics’ needs within 30 days, or contract out repairs
Bing said the Detroit police department will immediately begin random pullovers and boardings of buses, many of which are already running hours behind schedule, and will increase police presence at the Rosa Parks center. Crimestoppers will offer $1,000 rewards for the arrest and successful prosecution of those who attack drivers, he said.
Bing also announced that what he called the “world-class” Rosa Parks Transit Center” will become the base for the police reserves.
The city spent $18 million to build that terminal, but has closed it to the public at night because of the numbers of homeless people seeking shelter in the center named after the heroine of the civil rights movement.
Today, desperate riders seeking to get to work and school told VOD they caught rides to the Rosa Parks center thinking bus service might be available there. However, DDOT administrators gave orders to clear the terminal, and it sat like a ghost town for most of the day. Now it will be full of “wannabe” police.
At a local restaurant near the Transit Center, a tired and frustrated worker said riders had been coming in all morning venting on her.
“They need to go down and sit in at the Mayor’s office instead of blaming the drivers and the bus workers and complaining to me,” she said.
(Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/09/20/bus-workers-riders-blast-bing/ for story on public hearing wher union officials, workers and riders testified at Council.)
In addition to failing to get broken buses back on the roads, Bing has cut bus routes and hours of service drastically during his administration.
Bus lines outside the Transit Center and all over Detroit stretch up to blocks long. Some buses run up to three hours late in the worst transportation crisis the city has experienced.
Both riders and drivers face severe stress, the riders fearing they will lose their jobs or be turned away from school for being late, and the drivers fearing the riders will take out their frustrations on them, as many have been doing, verbally and physically, according to the drivers’ union president Henry Gaffney.
The Detroit Free Press just published an article headlined, “DDOT Drivers paid not to work,” further whipping up antagonism against DDOT workers.
Unfortunately, Gaffney, who heads Amalgamated Transit Local 26, played into Bing’s approach during the televised part of the press conference.
“We do apologize to any citizens that were caused inconvenience today,” Gaffney said. “Over one hundred thousand people in this city take the bus every day. But drastic things have happened in the last few months. We appreciate the administration for sitting down with us, Crimestoppers, and the police that have guaranteed they are going to be more visible. We are asking that whoever took video, come forth and give police a copy so that they can capture those people and put this to a rest.”
However, the youth who took the video on his cell phone, Eddie Flores, was interviewed by Fox 2 News. He said the driver took the first swing and that the youths were not at fault.
Regardless of who began the melee, according to Leamon Wilson’s account of recent negotiations with the city, the first swing needs to be taken at the mayor, and the second one at the governor. (See following story which includes interview with Wilson, president of AFSCME Local 312, the bus mechanics union.)
In a separate interview after the press conference, Gaffney told VOD, “We do need to have those buses fixed, so that people in the city can get on the bus every 20 minutes instead of every two and a half hours.”
He said he understands the riders’ frustration, because so many people are out of work and face the possibility of losing their jobs if they can’t get to work on time or at all.
Arther Eichelberger, a senior Detroit resident, apoke with William Williams, Div. 26 executive board member and bus driver, after the press conference as well.
“Are the buses going to keep running like they’ve been running?” he asked, not satisfied that they were simply back on the road. “The Mayor needs to put the buses out there on time. Especially the poor people depend on the bus system. If that’s what it takes [the bus stoppage] to get service up, I’m all for it. The city should be responsible for getting the buses up to speed. They get revenues from us riders. The Mayor’s getting paid, the City Council’s getting paid, but the people are suffering.”