- New D-DOT cuts to take effect Sept. 29
- NEWCC petitions Council to roll back previous cuts, files federal complaint
- D-DOT ridership down under private management
By Diane Bukowski
September 25, 2012
DETROIT – Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Department of Transportation (D-DOT) Director Ronald Freeland have announced bus route changes effective Sept. 29 which they say will benefit passengers. However, riders at a City Council hearing Sept. 18 said they have been throwing Detroiters “under the bus.”
The changes include the combination of Fort Route 19 with Jefferson Route 25, increased evening wait times on the Michigan route from 30 minutes to one hour, and ending some neighborhood routes before they get all the way downtown. (Click on DDOT Sep 2012 Service Changes.)
Bing hired Envisurage/Transpro, a private company, to manage D-DOT in January with promises it would increase ridership. The system then purchased 46 new buses in February and, along with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), received a $30 million federal grant in July.
However, according to figures released by the Mayor’s office Sept. 25, ridership has declined.
“Within the 1st quarter (August 2011), ridership tallied at 2,625,204 bus-riding passengers,” Bing’s chief of communications Naomi Patton said in a statement. “Within the same period for August 2012, the ridership amount totaled 2,608,718.” That is a decrease of 3,514 riders.
The Mayor’s office said, however, that rider complaints had decreased from 547 to 293 in the same period.
But there were plenty of complaints at Detroit City Council’s Sept. 18 community meeting held on the east campus of Wayne County Community College, from members of the North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC).
“Detroit’s main bus terminal is named after Rosa Parks, who worked on behalf of poor people,” Lila Cabbell told the Council. “But people in Detroit are not able to get to work, and the whole Medical Center is not really connected to D-DOT. Most people in Detroit cannot afford a car. For us now, it’s not a matter of being in the back of the bus. It’s a matter of being under the bus.”
A study just released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 57 percent of Detroit’s children are living in poverty. Federally-required Title VI studies on D-DOT’s website show that route changes have disproportionately affected poor and “minority” neighborhoods.
“I’m unemployed now because of schedule cuts,” Dennis Sloan said. “Things are so bad in my neighborhood that I was robbed going to a bus stop by a group of 13-year-olds. Detroiters’ lives have become a lot more unmanageable, but meanwhile Bing turned D-DOT over to a company with a manager from New York who is a member of the Tea Party and hosts a right-wing radio talk show.” (See sidebar on Bill Nojay.)
In April, Bing and Freeland established a so-called “4-15” plan, promising that buses on the city’s four busiest routes, Woodward, Gratiot, Dexter and Grand River, would run every 15 minutes on week-days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Some riders have reported that 4-15 is not working.
“Service continues to be erratic and unpredictable on Woodward,” D-DOT rider and NEWCC member Syri Simpson wrote on the group’s website. She also spoke at the Council meeting.
“I find myself wondering, ‘Who thought that nobody wants to go to Woodward and Jefferson on the weekend?’” Simpson said. “The city spends big bucks advertising the River Walk, then makes getting to it a Herculean effort on the weekend. It already seemed odd to me that you cannot take the Woodward Bus to the downtown CVS or Charter One Bank during the week because the Woodward Bus misses several blocks of Woodward. You have to walk blocks to the downtown library or those cute restaurants (Olga’s, Hard Rock Café, etc.) on or off Woodward.”
Another rider told the Council that she recently waited two and one-half hours for the Cadillac-Harper bus at the Rosa Parks terminal.
NEWCC presented petitions with 1,300 signatures to the Council, demanding fulfillment of the City Charter mandate to provide “reliable, convenient and comfortable transportation” for the people, and a rollback of the March 3 cuts.
Those cuts included elimination of bus service between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., elimination of the Imperial Express freeway route, discontinuation of weekend service on the Clairmount route and Sunday service on the Southfield route, and ending the Vernor route at the Rosa Parks Transit Center.
The group earlier filed a Title VI civil rights complaint against D-DOT, saying it did not hold public hearings prior to those cuts, and that its Title VI reports do not provide “a least harmful alternative,” among other charges. A federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit is also ongoing against D-DOT based on accessibility complaints from wheel-chair users.
No hearings were held prior to the Sept 29 changes either. Title VI requires public hearings on “major changes,” which include route eliminations and increased wait times more than 20 minutes during non-peak hours.
Bing’s office said the new schedule does not constitute “major changes,” and is based in part on “school-open” changes to routes from summertime schedules.
It said the Fort-Jefferson route combination is not a route elimination, and makes it more convenient for passengers to travel east to west without a transfer. It said the Michigan route wait time increases are based on the formula D-DOT uses to determine “low-performing routes.” (Full comments at DDOT Statement on September 29 route changes .)
On Sept. 20, bus riders raised more complaints at D-DOT’s monthly “community information meeting.”
D-DOT scheduling manager Larry Tiller told them that the Sept. 29 changes are not due to financial problems, but to the need to “right-size” the city’s bus service by taking buses from “low-performing” routes and putting them on heavily used routes.
According to D-DOT’s Title VI report, “DDOT’s service standards say that any service that operates at less than 50% system average for two consecutive quarters is subject to elimination. System average was 34.87 passengers per hour in FY11 and DDOT’s standard is 33.92.”
Customers at the meeting, however, said that lower ridership on many routes is due to unreliable bus schedules, which force riders to find alternate means of transportation. They said these include car and cab-pooling, and riding bicycles part of the way to catch up with the buses.
D-DOT has installed bike racks on the sides of some buses in a pilot program, and sidewalk bike racks at some stops. It has also instituted a “Text Your Bus” program which says riders can find out when the next bus is coming by texting 50464. (Click on D-DOT website link at end of story for full information, and see video below.)
Despite the video’s claims, however, D-DOT officials at the meeting said the text system is not working on Boost Mobile and Metro PCS cell phones, commonly used by Detroiters because of their low monthly rates. They said an alternative phone number is available, at 313-499-0937.
According to news reports, Envisurage/Transpro CEO Mark Aesch told Detroit’s
appointed “Financial Advisory Board” Sept. 11 that ridership increased to 2.9 million in May from 2.7 million in January. He also boasted that driver salaries and overtime decreased from $3.2 million in January to $1.9 in May.
The Financial Advisory Board was established under the Public Act 4 “Fiscal Stability [consent] Agreement.” However, a referendum to end PA 4 was put on the November state ballot Aug. 4. Under state law, all provisions of the act, including the establishment of consent agreements, are supposed to be suspended until the November vote.
Bing and Michigan Governor Snyder, however, have declared that the consent agreement is not part of Public Act 4, disagreeing with the city’s Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon.
The website for the North End Woodward Community Coalition is at http://www.newcommunitycoalition.info/Home_Page.html.
The D-DOT website is at tttp://www.detroitmi.gov/Departments/DetroitDepartmentofTransportation/tabid/80/Default.aspx.
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