DDOT bus service restarts, following 3 days without buses!

Friday morning, October 2nd, DDOT drivers stopped working and refused to drive again until the City improves driver safety. This Detroit bus stoppage really hurt riders – tens of thousands of people who depend on DDOT buses were left stranded for three days, before they finally worked out a deal and service restarted early Monday morning.

The City of Detroit announced at 7am Friday Oct 2 that buses were not operating.

Around 7am, Friday, the City of Detroit posted this:

“The Detroit Department of Transportation is currently undergoing a driver work stoppage due to a labor dispute. At the time being there is no bus service. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working with union representatives to get buses back on the road as soon as possible” 

Union leaders say the stoppage was over the ongoing problem of driver safety, after a bus driver reportedly had a gun pulled on them Thursday night and another driver was suspended for fighting with a threatening passenger. Glenn Tolbert of ATU Local 26 told the Detroit Free Press that the drivers hate to “inconvenience the public,” but called the shutdown a “necessary evil.”

Riders were stuck without choices.

Bus drivers are essential to keep our City rolling. Tens of thousands of people who ride depend on them, and all of us depend on people who depend on buses.

Riders really felt the burn. TRU has heard from several different riders who were left stranded. One reached out at 5:45am Friday that he’d be waiting for a bus since 3am.

DDOT service had already been running on a limited COVID-19 schedule. Most riders who had other choices for getting around were already utilizing those.

SMART continued to run their regularly scheduled FAST buses along Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan, and is reported to have increased service along those lines to help. But they couldn’t possibly make up for the entire DDOT fleet that people are depending on.

Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, said she’s never seen the prospect of a multiple-day shutdown in service in her 15 years as a transportation advocate. It’ll be a major blow, she said, for the essential workers and riders who need it most.

There are tens of thousands of people who depend on DDOT every day to get to work, to appointments, to everywhere they need to go,” she said. “An entire weekend without service could be really devastating.”

Owens, who also had been a longtime rider of the system prior to the outbreak, said drivers have raised issues with unruly riders periodically over the years but the stresses that come along with the coronavirus have escalated tensions.

“It’s hard for a driver to want to deal with this,” she said. “I really do hope the city is looking very seriously at increasing the pay in addition to whatever safety measures they need.”

Detroit News, “Detroit bus service remains halted indefinitely amid worries over COVID-19, violence,” October 2, 2020

Drivers are concerned with safety.

Plexiglas shields are being installed on all buses to improve driver safety, but ar not expected to be all in until December.

The work stoppage is disruptive yet not surprising. Drivers have complained for many years about getting threatened, spit on, or even assaulted by angry passengers. Since the untimely passing of DDOT driver Jason Hargrove back in March, concerns have been raised about how Detroit bus drivers are being protected during COVID-19. Also, DDOT drivers have long been among the lowest paid bus drivers in the nation, starting at just $12 an hour despite a tough job.

Mayor Mike Duggan held a press conference Saturday at 12noon saying the stoppage was about the suspension of a driver for attacking a rider (as shown in a TV news report) and that it must go through due process and possibly arbitration. He said he was willing to keep negotiating at any time, but not over a discipline issue.

A deal was reached Sunday afternoon.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

A memorandum of understanding calls for more support from Detroit police and de-escalation training for bus drivers…. There’ll be a minimum of 500 bus boardings from law enforcement each week. This means an officer from Detroit police or DDOT transit police will get on a bus and ride it.

The memorandum also gives drivers the right to legally defend themselves against a violent rider…. By Dec.1, there’ll be guidelines for drivers giving legally acceptable self-defense actions. 

Another promise to drivers is the installation of temporary barriers with signage saying “restricted area,” by Nov. 1. According to the memorandum, these barriers will prevent people from getting within 12 feet of the driver’s seat. These barriers will be temporary until DDOT can put permanent barrier doors into each bus by Dec. 31.

DDOT will give boxes of masks to drivers as well. These masks are meant for riders who don’t have one upon entering the bus. There’ll be two boxes; one in the front and one in the back of the bus.

TRU is relieved that service has restarted and will hopefully be safer for everyone riding.

Now DDOT can get back to the ongoing problem of getting more buses running to avoid overcrowded buses.

Review media reporting:

  • Service restored
    • Detroit News: Detroit bus services to resume early Monday after walkout
    • Detroit Free Press: DDOT bus drivers to return to work Monday after agreement with city
    • Click on Detroit Channel 4: DDOT reaches agreement with union, bus service to resume today
    • WXYZ Channel 7: DDOT reaches agreement following walkout; drivers to return to work Monday
    • Fox 2 News: DDOT Workers expected to return to work, after the release of a written agreement
  • Work stoppage
    • Detroit News: Detroit bus service remains halted indefinitely amid worries over COVID-19, violence
    • Detroit Free Press: Fearful of the pandemic and threats from riders, Detroit’s bus drivers refuse to work