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Detroit disability advocates on city's plan to cut paratransit: "They can't do that"

A man in a wheelchair holding a phone
Hanna - stock.adobe.com
The rule change would allow people to apply for disability assistance over the phone.

Detroit disability advocates are cheering the Detroit City Council’s decision toreject a paratransit services contract. But they’re concerned and angry that the city now plans to cut paratransit service by 70%.

Advocates say Transdev, which provides paratransit services in much of Detroit now and was set to get the new contract, has continually provided poor services to riders, and that Detroit officials should have involved the disability community more before deciding on the contract.

“There is no way they should have another five years for the horrible service that they've been giving us,” said Lisa Franklin, founder and CEO of Warriors on Wheels of Metro Detroit. “The service is horrible and we should not accept it for our seniors, for our parents, for our grandparents, for our friends, for our neighbors. We cannot accept this.”

Transdev has said it's making changes to address complaints.

Franklin said disability advocates were “willing to compromise” on a shorter-term contract for the company while the city sought out another, better provider, but city officials wouldn’t agree.

Detroit city officials say they did their best to ensure that contract included upgraded services and strict performance metrics. They now say Council’s vote leaves them no choice but to cut paratransit rides from 1,000 per day to 300 while it re-bids the contract.

Dessa Cosma, executive director of Detroit Disability Power, said she’s grateful that “City Council listened to the disabled residents that came and made their concerns known,” but that “that big question mark is pretty concerning.”

“I do think my feeling is that the city will have to figure something out,” Cosma said. “The administration [of Mayor Mike Duggan] will have to figure out how to make this work in 2023.

“Frankly, they're really on notice that they need to step it up and just do a better job here in Detroit.”

Franklin agreed. She said that under federal civil rights law, the city must provide the same services to transit riders with disabilities it does to people without disabilities.

Franklin said her group is in close touch with DDOT officials and will continue to press them. Currently, the city plans for the paratransit cuts to go into effect December 18.

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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