DDOT needs a real fix, not a black-out or band-aid

What does DDOT think they’re hiding?

Following demands from TRU and other bus advocates, the City of Detroit has for years been posting the DDOT Performance Dashboard each month. They’re introduced as such:

The performance dashboard, updated monthly, provides a snapshot of DDOT’s operating performance and is one of many initiatives underway to increase transparency. These metrics help us identify trends and measure our efficiency and effectiveness.

The Performance Dashboard is now missing.

DDOT needs a real fix. Yet following critical media attention and hard questions from riders and City Council, what’s the Mayor’s solution to the bus crisis? Hide the numbers!

A screenshot of the DDOT Performance Dashboard taken on September 21, 2021, shows no recent data. Scroll down far enough and you can find data from May and before, but nothing recent.

But we know what’s going on.

TRU spotlighted back in June that DDOT needs a real fix:

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 pick up kids from school or get home with an armload of groceries or get to work at their night shift….

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.

TRU blog, June 30, 2021, “Despite COVID Decline, DDOT Remains in Crisis!”

Crain’s spotlighted it again this week, from multiple perspectives.

Heck, even DDOT knows “we have not been able to meet that promise,” as stated in their service change presentation:

DDOT is planning short-term changes.

Because they can’t hire and keep enough drivers to provide their scheduled service, they plan to modify their service schedule to run less frequently.

Bus advocates are divided as to whether they wholly oppose this and any cuts or whether this is a necessary interim step so riders can at least trust the schedule again.

But advocates are in full agreement that DDOT needs a real fix – a long-term solution – and they need to solve this crisis immediately!

How to Fix DDOT

1. First, do more to hire and keep drivers.

Driving a city bus has long been a challenging job, even before COVID-19. And DDOT needs to hire some 100 drivers! In this nationally tight job market, employers need to do more than just post their jobs and hope for the best. Amazon is starting people at $18/hour. Indian Trails is offering $3,000 hiring bonuses. Heck, Traverse City’s transit agency ran TV ads during the Olympics to attract more drivers.

To fix DDOT, the City needs to do more. That could include paying more, providing hazard pay, providing hiring and longevity bonuses, and/or improving working conditions to make these jobs more compelling. While there are challenges with each of these, the City could work through those problems if they really tried.

For once, the problem isn’t money! The City of Detroit has received over $80 million in federal funding specifically for transit. While some of that money went to build driver shields, provide masks, and cover lost income from not charging fares for a year, there’s even more coming.

2. Spend federal funding wisely to fix this crisis for bus riders

Recognizing how essential public transit is to keep society functioning, especially when so many essential workers ride the bus, the federal government has provided more than $84 million in COVID relief funds to the City of Detroit (through the RTA) specifically for transit. These funds were provided by the federal government specifically to ensure maintenance of local bus service despite the pandemic. The City accepted these funds yet has not maintained the service riders need and riders deserve to know why.

The City needs to start by providing an itemized listing of how it spent those funds. And broad summaries like “$36 million for operating assistance and $27 million for preventative maintenance” are not sufficient.

The City is about to get another $51 million from the American Rescue Plan, again specifically to maintain and fix DDOT! The City needs to include transit advocates and riders in deciding the best way to spend those funds.

3. Develop a public plan to restore service to 2019 levels within six months.

DDOT leaders have send the current round of “service modifications” are temporary and mentioned early next year when they hope to start restoring service. Riders deserve more certainty. A deadline can also help the agency work backwards to make sure necessary actions are taken with all due haste.

DDOT needs a concrete plan to provide service that is at a minimum what it provided in 2019. The schedule at that time was still less than what Detroiters need for great service, but it was at least a solid service.

4. Build trust by improving transparency

In addition to transparency regarding the spending of the COVID stimulus, the City also needs to keep the Performance Dashboard up to date! It also needs clear definitions of terms used in the Performance Dashboard. For example, on-time performance is misleadingly positive, given pull-out numbers.

The Performance Dashboard should also be expanded to include on-time performance for paratransit and access to service metrics, like how many Detroiters live within ½ mile of a DDOT bus stop and how many live within ¼ mile of a route that runs every 15 minutes or better.

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, DDOT had plans to hire several Ambassadors to talk one-on-one with riders on the buses, to attend community meetings, and otherwise better explain what DDOT’s up to. DDOT needs to restore that much needed project!

5. Develop a detailed plan to make DDOT great, and fund it!

Mr. Oglesby said he plans a “comprehensive service analysis” to develop a plan for substantially better service. Bravo! But this has long been promised and never really delivered, so riders are skeptical. DDOT should develop a concrete timeline and public engagement process to riders can help develop this plan and can see how DDOT will actually implement it.

We recommend the plan focus on following goals:

  • Restore the ConnectTen routes to provide frequent (every 15 minutes or better during peak hours and every 20 minutes during off-peak hours 6:00am until 10:00pm) and 24-hour service.
  • Provide bus service that is frequent and quick enough that bus riders can travel anywhere in the City in an hour or less.
  • Ensure enough bus service so that all Detroiters are within a quarter-mile of a bus stop or equivalent service.

City leaders should also be actively involved in helping the RTA get a regional dedicated transit funding source onto the ballot, which would provide significant additional funding for DDOT expansion.

Agree? Tell Mayor Duggan!

While Mikel Oglesby is the Director of Transit for the City, Mayor Duggan decides spending and can make sure they overcome challenges and barriers. But he thinks he solved transit years ago.

Tell Mayor Duggan that DDOT needs a real fix, not a band-aid or black-out. And this time, he needs to really make DDOT great!

  • You can try to call his office at 313-224-3400, although they don’t always answer.
  • Or find him at a campaign event or community meeting.

However you can reach out, make sure Mayor Duggan knows that public transit is important to you and that you demand better!