Despite COVID Decline, DDOT Remains in Crisis!

“Average Weekday Pull out PM: 65%”

It sounds neutral enough, until you know what it means:

Every day, many scheduled buses aren’t operating and riders are left stranded.

The City of Detroit website shows key measurements of how DDOT is performing (which we applaud them for sharing!). This screen captured from June 2, 2021, shows some startlingly bad “pull-out” numbers!

During April and May, 3 out of every 10 buses that were supposed to pull out of the bus garage each afternoon didn’t.

That means 3 out of every 10 Detroiters waiting for a bus were left stranded. These are our friends and neighbors trying to:

They waited for a bus that never showed up. Sure, another one may come 20, 30, or 45 minutes later, but what if that next one was too full, since so many riders were waiting?

No show buses means that too often Detroit bus riders are stuck paying exorbitant Uber rates or late charges or are even at risk of losing their jobs, due to no fault of their own.

This is not normal (outside Detroit). This is not okay.

Most transit agencies don’t even include pull-outs in their regular tracking. It is nearly unheard of in any other major city to not run scheduled buses. Nationally, 100% pull-out is the norm, 98% is an serious concerns, and 95% pull-outs would be cause for alarm and swift action!

The problem is not COVID-19, not mainly. Many transit agencies around the country have restored their full pre-COVID schedule of service. DDOT (and SMART) are only scheduled to operate around 80% of their pre-COVID schedules (and need to get back to full schedules asap!). This doesn’t track that number either.

DDOT has plenty of buses – that’s not the problem.

The problem is a lack of bus drivers.

TRU has spoken with DDOT management about this problem numerous times, during both public and private meetings. Detroit’s Director of Transportation Mikel Oglesby recognizes the problem – they are struggling to hire, train, and maintain enough drivers. His team is working hard to fix it. He points to several challenges:

  • Some drivers quit or retired early due to health concerns.
  • Some drivers are still home sick or taking care of sick family members or kids with no daycare.
  • Despite posting job openings widely, they aren’t getting enough applicants.
  • During quarantine, driver-trainees weren’t able to get their Commercial Drivers License from the Secretary of State (since resolved).
  • To provide safe social distancing, buses were capped at 20-25 riders (during April and May, a cap since removed).

They recently negotiated a new contract with ATU Local 26 that represents their drivers, increasing starting pay to $15/hour. But even that doesn’t seem enough, when White Castle and Amazon are offering the same (although without DDOT’s benefits).

Mayor Duggan and Director Oglesby must do more to resolve this crisis.

It is outrageous for so many scheduled buses not to be operating.

It is unacceptable for so many riders to be left stranded.

While this is a challenging time to hire, DDOT leadership must figure out a way to get enough drivers to run their buses!

For once, the biggest barrier is not money! Beyond the $800 million coming to the City, Detroit has already received more than $80 million in federal funding directed specifically for DDOT to maintain essential bus service despite the pandemic. They will be receiving $30-50 million more from the American Rescue Plan, once the RTA decides how to allocate it within the region.

DDOT’s own reporting on how federal COVID-relief funds had/have been allocated (useful info although somewhat vague)

Does DDOT need to provide new driver bonuses?

Does DDOT need to provide hazard pay or other short-term pay boosts?

Can DDOT do more to make drivers feel appreciated and listened to?

Whatever it takes, the current situation is unacceptable. Bus riders cannot keep being left stranded. We can’t wait any more!

Tell Mayor Duggan and Director Oglesby that bus levels are unacceptable! Ask how they plan to hire enough drivers so no rider is left stranded! Call Mayor Duggan’s office at 313-224-3400 and DDOT customer service at 313-933-1300.