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More cuts, changes in store for Detroit's troubled bus system

Big changes are in store once again for Detroit’s beleaguered bus riders.

1000 city workers will be laid off next week—including 78 bus drivers and 25 mechanics, according to Naomi Patton, a spokeswoman for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

The city recently turned over management of its transportation department to a private contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, who sub-contracted with another company, Envisurage.

Amalgamated Transit Union 26 President Henry Gaffney says that contract provides managers with incentives to cut costs, with bonuses for additional “streamlining” on a monthly basis.

And Gaffney says the only way to do that is to cut service. He says new routes and schedules are already in the works.

 “120,000 people use the bus in Detroit,” Gaffney said. “Leaving them stranded at the bus stop, and just looking at the numbers and not caring about the people here. It’s going to be devastating to the people of the city of Detroit.”

“And these are the least fortunate people. They ride the bus because they have to.”

Patton says Bing will reveal more details about changes to the system later this week. In the meantime, a public hearing is scheduled for February 24th—as the layoffs are going into effect.

These details are disturbing to Megan Owens, head of the advocacy group Transportation Riders United.

“I don’t know whether to be disappointed, or just outraged,” Owens said. “That cut after cut, promise after promise of improved service, that the people of Detroit can’t depend on the city to provide even the most basic bus service.”

Owens says that at first, she was cautiously optimistic new management would help historically troubled department. But she says it looks more and more like improving bus service isn’t a priority, at least in the short term.

Owens and other transit advocates also tried to deliver a “valentine” to Bing’s office, asking him to deliver on promises to improve bus service. But they were locked out of his office.

“They don’t even want to hear what ideas or recommendations or concerns people have,” Owens said. “Clearly, this Mayor is very out of touch with what the residents need.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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