Detroit’s New Bus Fleet Brings a $35.8 Million Investment for a Cleaner, More Equitable Future

Detroit is taking a big step forward in public transportation by replacing some of its old diesel buses with new hybrid and hydrogen-fueled models. This move is thanks to $30.8 million in new federal funding, making Detroit one of 117 cities to receive grants from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The Michigan Department of Transportation also pitched in $5 million, bringing the total investment to $35.8 million. But how will this investment impact the Black community? Will they see the benefits from these millions of dollars spent?

Mayor Mike Duggan announced at a press conference that Detroit will be purchasing 21 new hybrid buses and its first four hydrogen fuel-cell coaches to replace 25 diesel buses in the city’s fleet. The city aims to replace 45 buses next year and has a goal of replacing a quarter of the fleet with hybrids and hydrogen-fueled buses within the next three years.

“The Biden administration has supported us from the beginning and again is helping us rebuild this bus system,” Duggan said. “I spoke over the weekend to that proud Michigan resident, [U.S. Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and thanked him for his support on this grant. And of course, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state infrastructure directors that call them with a very generous $5 million grant. This is what happens when we all work together.”

Right now, the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) has four zero-emission electric buses and four more on order, funded by a $6.9 million FTA grant announced in 2022. The city already has 400 electric or hybrid vehicles in its fleet. This new funding and transition to cleaner buses is part of a larger $1.5 billion federal initiative to fight climate change and improve air quality in cities across the United States. Veronica Vanterpool, acting administrator of the FTA, highlighted the broader impact of such projects.

“Projects like these really do better connect our communities, and it makes it easier for everyone to connect to everything that matters. This promotes equity, and it gives people more of a chance and opportunities in their community,” Vanterpool said. “So many of these buses are going to roll through neighborhoods that historically suffered from poor air quality and elevated health risks. So I’m excited to be here to be part of the effort to make this change.”

At the press conference, Duggan also called for legislators to pass the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve (SOAR) legislation, created by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to make Michigan more attractive for economic development and investment projects. “It will provide permanent funding for transit to cities across the state of Michigan, and with the new buses that we have coming in, we can put more service on the street,” Duggan said. “I hope the legislature will act quickly when they return from break to support the governor, get a version of the SOAR legislation through and let’s start expanding transit to have a first-class system.”

This investment in cleaner, more efficient public transportation is a positive step for Detroit, but it’s crucial to examine how this development will specifically impact the Black community. Historically, many Black neighborhoods in Detroit have faced systemic neglect, including poor public transportation options. Will this new fleet of buses make a difference in these communities?

Public transportation is more than just a means to get from one place to another. For Detroiters, reliable and efficient transit is a lifeline, connecting them to jobs, education, healthcare, and other essential services. The introduction of hybrid and hydrogen-fueled buses could improve the reliability of public transit, reduce maintenance costs, and ensure more consistent service. This, in turn, could enhance economic opportunities for residents who rely on public transit to commute to work.

Moreover, the transition to cleaner buses addresses environmental justice issues. Many Black communities in Detroit have long suffered from poor air quality due to pollution from industrial activities and traffic. Replacing diesel buses with hybrid and hydrogen-fueled models will reduce emissions, potentially leading to better health outcomes for residents in these neighborhoods. Cleaner air can mean lower rates of asthma, respiratory issues, and other health problems that disproportionately affect Black communities.

The investment in new buses also symbolizes a commitment to equity. By prioritizing improvements in public transportation, the city acknowledges the critical role that transit plays in promoting social and economic equity. However, this commitment must be sustained beyond the initial investment. Continuous engagement with the community, ensuring that their needs and concerns are addressed, will be vital for the long-term success of this initiative.

As we look to the future, it is essential to ask: will this investment translate into tangible benefits for Black Detroiters? Will it lead to increased job opportunities, better health outcomes, and enhanced quality of life? The answers to these questions will depend on how the city implements and maintains these changes. It will require ongoing collaboration between city officials, community leaders, and residents to ensure that the benefits of this investment are equitably distributed.

This $35.8 million investment in Detroit’s bus fleet is a promising step towards a more sustainable and equitable future. It reflects a broader national effort to combat climate change and promote social justice. However, the true measure of its success will be seen in how it impacts the daily lives of Black Detroiters. Will they experience the improved air quality, better health outcomes, and increased economic opportunities that this investment promises? Only time will tell. But one thing is clear: the path to a more equitable Detroit begins with investments like these, grounded in the principles of justice, equity, and community.

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