Bus cutbacks back on the table

While Mayor Dive Bing had decided last week not to go forward with proposed cuts to weekend bus service — including the layoff of 113 bus drivers — he has since announced that cuts to the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) will be part of a 10 percent cutback in the city’s workforce. He said he will announce what the cuts will entail on Sept. 10, and that these cuts will take effect Sept. 26.

Bing had been looking into cutting service on Sundays and ending Saturday service at 6 p.m., a possibility which generated strong outcry in the community.

While Bing argues that various cuts he’s proposing are necessary given the city’s deficit of at least $300 million — and stated in an op-ed in the Detroit News over the weekend that more citizens had opposed proposed changes to bus routes than have spoken out against violence in the community — others see cuts to bus service as an indicator that the mayor doesn’t care about Detroiters.

Among those are Henry Gaffney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, the union representing Detroit’s bus drivers.

“He is so out of touch with the people of the city, he didn’t even have the decency to come to one public hearing and hear hundreds of people tell him ‘this is my only means of transportation,’” Gaffney said. He also said Bing’s “inhumane treatment” of the people of Detroit “can’t be tolerated.”

He indicated that his union will campaign against Bing in the November election.

He also said more than 150,000 people ride the bus over the week, and more than 100,000 do so on the weekend to get to jobs, to church, do grocery shopping or to run other errands.

“It’s not like they’re parking a Mercedes Benz in their garage and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m going to ride the bus today,’” he said. “These people have to ride the bus because it’s their only means of getting out of the house and doing what they have to do.”

Gaffney’s words were echoed by Detroiter Marguerite Maddox, who contacted the Chronicle on behalf of those who depend on buses on Sundays to get to church services and family outings, since they can’t afford cabs or other means of transportation.

“We cannot depend on family and friends to take (us) everywhere,” she wrote, adding that they are independent and want to continue to be so.

Edward Cardenas , Bing’s press secretary, confirmed that Bing was not at any of the hearings, but said that high level staff members were in attendance.  He also said DDOT and the mayor will take the data received from the public hearings, and the concerns of the citizens, to determine what changes can and should be implemented to minimal impact to the ridership.

Asked if Bing expected to get such a reaction to his bus cut proposal, or if he thought the cuts were the least painful that could be made, Cardenas said the cuts were just proposals and to get the discussion going.

“The input we receive from residents on this issue and every issue is welcome and anticipated.”

Cardenas also said the most important thing Detroiters need to know is that the proposals discussed this past week, and the statements and concerns voiced by citizens will be reviewed.

Gaffney believes there are other options aside from cuts to service and/or routes.

He said Detroit has $3.2 million in funds from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation that it can use for operational purposes, and keep bus drivers working. He also said these funds could keep drivers working for the next eight months.

Gaffney also argues that a DDOT merger with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) system would be the right thing to do.

“We are the only major city that’s still trying to run a transportation department,” he said.

“They’ve been talking about (a merger) for all these years. I don’t know if it’s a thing about power, about racism, about controlling where buses go. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason, this region can’t get together and do what’s right for the people.”

He said he knows of people who catch both buses, then still have to walk half a mile to work.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We’re the tenth or eleventh largest major city, and we don’t have a regional transportation system,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that picture. What’s the problem?”

He also said he would personally favor raising fares by 50 cents than spend $20 on Sunday to take a cab home, and that he believes most bus riders would feel the same.

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