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Detroit City Council approves, then rejects, paratransit contract

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The Detroit City Council wrapped up its final meeting of the year with a wild series of events that saw Council members approve, then reject, a nearly $50 million paratransit services contract.

The Council first voted 5-3 to approve the contract with Transdev Services. Many members reluctantly voted yes after hearing complaints about Transdev from the disability community.

Then Council Member Gabriela Santiago Romero retracted her yes vote and cast a no vote instead, leading to a 4-4 tie and the contract ultimately failing.

City transportation officials had warned the Council that rejecting the contract would lead to a months-long, 70% reduction in paratransit services while the city attempted to re-bid the contract.

Detroit Department of Transportation director Mikel Oglesby said there are typically 1,000 Detroit paratransit users every day. “So in that situation, I'll be providing transportation for 300 rides per day,” he said. “So that leaves 700 people in Detroit who physically will be unable to get where they need to go because of lack of service.”

Oglesby said that paratransit not only takes riders to medical appointments, but also anywhere else they need to go. “That's the real purpose of this,” he said. “And going into the cold weather, trying to just move forward with 30% would be difficult.”

In a statement provided to the Detroit News, Santiago Romero said that she changed her vote after hearing from transit advocates and members of the disabled community.

"It is [Mayor Mike Duggan’s] Administration's job to do their due diligence to provide Council with an amended Transdev contract or an expedited process to seek other vendors. It is our job as Council to consider all options — beyond this one false choice — and be given the time and required detailed information to make the right decision on behalf of the people this will most impact," Santiago Romero said. "And I don't believe that to be Transdev and I needed to vote my conscience."

In a statement, Duggan’s Chief of Staff, Stephanie Washington, blasted the Council’s vote, calling members’ accusations of a forced last-minute vote “disappointing and disingenuous.”

“As far as next steps with paratransit services, we now have to go about the business of cleaning up City Council’s mess,” Washington said. “We believe we addressed the concerns the community expressed by adding accountability and bringing many of the administrative operations in-house. We also had the ability to cancel the contract at any time if there were performance issues. City Council has made its decision and this contract cannot be brought before them again. We now must start an entirely new procurement process and this past one took about six months.”

Washington said the city will have to implement the 70% service reduction on December 18th. She said the city will be “prioritizing medical runs first and if we have available runs beyond those, we will try to work them in, although we have a two-week lead time for booking paratransit rides.”

City officials said that “in light of the vote, DDOT is considering its options.”

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.