Transportation
3:04 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

The kids on the bus pick the bus route in Detroit

This summer, kids in Southwest Detroit had a new way to get around. 

In a story by Model D, the Youth Transit Alliance, which is funded by the Skillman Foundation, became the solution for a lack of adequate and safe transportation for kids in the southwest part of the city. 

The YTA contracted a private company, the Detroit Bus Company, to pick up kids and take them to activities outside of school. 

Before the Youth Transit Alliance existed only 40% of youth in southwest Detroit participated in things outside of school, according to Terry Whitfield. Whitfield works for the Partnerships for Youth Initiative, an organization which helps different Detroit non-profits collaborate and share resources. 

Crowdsourcing seems like the key to the success of this alliance.

The Detroit Bus Company actually set up a website where parents can look at the transportation routes and programs. 

But more than an information hub, the website allows program staff from the different non-profits to communicate with one another and with the DBC. That allows the program and bussing to tailor routes to become more efficient.

The busses stop at designated places that have also been determined by crowdsourcing. Parents, program staff members and kids weighed in on where the safest spots in the neighborhood were, which ended up being places like coffee shops, non-profits, and police stations.

The Director of the DBC, Daniel Brooks, estimated that a fixed-route bus system would cost about $2 million. The partnership is way cheaper, only $16,000 a month. 

Often, says Whitfield, program staff take on the burden of providing transportation for the kids, draining resources that could be better spent on developing and delivering programming. 

"In the youth worker community, you do what you have to do to get young people to the program," he says. "Now, a youth director doesn't have to worry about 60-90 minutes of pick-up and drop-off when they could be back at the agency doing programming."

Past attempts to solve the problem relied either on getting vans donated to individual programs or running a fixed-route bus system in the neighborhoods. The first solution created liability and maintenance burdens for the programs, while the latter ended up being cost-prohibitive, says Chris Uhl, Director of Changemaking at the Skillman Foundation.

Over the six-week pilot program, the Youth Transit Alliance helped 700 kids get to-and-from their summer activities. Though the test run ended August 16, there will be a second round when school starts again.

Skillman Foundation's Chris Uhl said that after the test run, more funding could be added to the alliance.

"By funding the pilot, I was proving there was a demand for the system and that it could work."

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom