INTRO: Washington is giving Detroit 50 new buses. Detroiters deserve them, especially kids who travel for hours to and from school. No major American city has mass transit this inadequate. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
Anyone in Detroit can tell a sad story about the bus. Anthony Foxx is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. He has one and he’s from out of state.
“Two weeks ago I was here and I heard about a woman who cleans houses and takes care of children. She works five miles from her home. She has no driver’s license and no car. She wakes up two hours early to catch a bus for what should be a 30 minute trip. Sometimes the buses run late. Sometimes they don’t show up at all.”
Secretary Foxx showed up at Cass Tech High School to announce $26 million he’s granted to Detroit for 50 new buses. Foxx was the Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. He started a street car project there and extended the light rail line.
“It’s so basic,” says the secretary of public transit.
Mayor Mike Duggan was leaving his office Thursday morning a few minutes before he met up with the transportation secretary.
“As I walked out of city hall a lady was walking in. She says to me, she stopped me in an angry voice and said ‘I’m an hour late for work because I waited two hours for the bus. When are you going to fix them?’ I said funny you should ask that question.”
So far, transit advocates are not disappointed in the mayor. When the event on the stage at Cass Tech was done, both politicians spoke with reporters. Duggan recognized the bus problem.
“There is no service in this city that is worse right now than the bus service. It’s just terrible. About three-quarters of our buses are more than 9 years old. They should be retired. We are literally taking buses that have been in wrecks, hammering out the front end and putting them back on the street. We need 225 buses a day running. Today we’re running about 180.”
DDOT has a total of 420 buses. That means half of them are broken or don’t have drivers. So they’re off the road. Duggan said new drivers are being hired each week. 90,000 Detroiters a day ride a bus including 15 year old Daysia Williams who’s a sophomore at Cass Tech.
“Usually my grandfather wakes me up in the morning. I get on the bus and it’s overcrowded. We usually have to take two buses to get to school. I walk to my other destination. It comes and it’s overcrowded and I have to wait for another bus to come. You might get a bus that’s too full and the bus driver tells you you can’t get on. Or they’ll just drive right past you.”
The state of Michigan provided the matching funds that Washington requires. That was done in February. Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT.
“It’s $6.5 million dollars of general fund money that got put into the comprehensive transportation fund and frankly without that commitment back there in that budget process if the government had not said yes we’re going to put general fund money in here we would not be standing here today.”
Steudle also served as MDOT director under former Governor Jennifer Granholm. He is not criticized for being partisan or political. I asked Transportation Secretary Foxx why he supports the widening of I-75 and I-94. Federal dollars will be used to tear down historic buildings near the Wayne State campus along with bridges that allow pedestrians and bikes. Foxx said:
“These issues are local issues that the community has to work out. Our department is charged with helping support the local vision.”
The local vision is of a dense, walkable mid-town Detroit. The state vision, under Kirk Steudle Rick Snyder and the legislature is of more lanes and less congestion for drivers. This formula has been killing Michigan cities since the 1950’s. But no one is criticizing the politicians this week for bringing the new buses. Everyone wants these sad stories to end.