New management promises better Detroit bus service, but riders are cynical
There were some testy exchanges at a Detroit City Council hearing on bus service Monday, as Council members and citizens wanted to know when they can expect the city’s notoriously bad bus service to improve.
Department statistics show that city buses miss stops or otherwise fail to service their routes about one-third of the time. Transit advocates suggest that number is probably too low.
Mayor Dave Bing has hired a private contractor to manage the long-dysfunctional Detroit Department of Transportation.
That company, Parsons-Brinckerhoff, has sub-contracted management duties to a transit firm, Envisurage. They’ve promised to get to the bottom of why Detroit's bus system, despite spending more money per rider than most cities, continues to perform so poorly.
They've also promised to improve service. But the Mayor’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris Brown, says there will be more service reductions, because the city simply can’t afford the $80 million a year it spends to subsidize the bus service.
“We’re going to have to cut routes," Brown said. "There’s just no other way around it if we’re going to get to the lower subsidy. And as all the Council members know, that’s part of the financial situation we’re in."
Patricia Fedewa is with the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United. She says the group is tentatively ok with the private management team—but they’re concerned that new managers won’t be able to get to the root of the problems. “We’re just concerned that the administration’s not gonna allow them to have all the tools they need to make all the changes," Fedewa said. Chief among those "tools" would be the ability to enforce existing work rules for both drivers and mechanics, Fedewa said. It's widely believed that much of the problem getting D-DOT buses on the streets stems from a work slowdown among mechanics. Fedewa and other bus riders told the Detroit City Council that last week’s public hearing on route cuts and other changes didn’t set a good precedent. Fedewa called the hearing “disorganized.” Others called it “a joke.”
Those route cuts and other service reductions go into effect next week.