Detroit’s finances are in the toilet and I sympathize with Mayor Bing on that. I really do. There’s no solution that everyone will like; any choice he makes will be unpopular with someone or other. But, the idea of cutting bus service is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s penny wise and dollar foolish!
Every other major metropolitan area in the US has a transit system of some kind beyond just buses. Detroit is handicapped without regional rail, a subway, or light rail. Detroit has none of those but is considering light rail along Woodward Avenue and there’s the study of commuter rail between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Both ideas are heavily dependent on Federal money for construction. How will the Feds feel if Detroit eviscerates it’s only public transportation, the buses? I’m thinking they won’t be real interested in funding other transit for metro Detroit. Let’s not forget that nanoseconds before leaving office, Michigan’s former governor John Engler vetoed regional transit for southeast Michigan. This is the same puffed up mass of flesh that thinks Michigan should house the Gitmo terrorists. Remember, Engler now lives and works in the DC area.
But, I digress. The point is, Detroit doesn’t have a functional mass transit system. Southeast Michigan has two separate bus systems. Transit is critical to flourishing regions, but Detroit’s Mayor Bing wants to eliminate Sunday bus service completely starting at 6 PM on Saturday, end overnight service on about 21 routes, slash 4 routes altogether, and increase wait times on many routes. In essence, the Mayor wants to eliminate 24 hour service and slash weekend service to almost worthless levels. In a city where one-third of households don’t have a car, does this make any rational sense? I think not. Putting Detroiters out of work to save bus money is just idiotic.
With no Saturday night or Sunday bus service, a lot of people who rely on Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses to get to work will likely lose their jobs. In a region with 25% unemployment already, this is not helpful. It will also translate to reduced tax revenue for the city, thereby offsetting any perceived savings. Has anyone considered this ripple effect? If people can’t get to their jobs at the casinos, the Fox, or the ball parks, those venues will have problems with weekend events and, thereby, suffer decreased revenues, again whittling away at Detroit’s tax base. In turn, this will also negatively affect those employees who don’t rely on the buses.
Although I don’t support any cuts in DDOT’s service, that doesn’t mean the city’s bus system should be exempt from fiscal responsibility. After reviewing the National Transit Database for 2005, DDOT costs 30% more than the Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transit (SMART), the suburban bus system for equivalent service. That tells me DDOT’s employees can give up some salary, a move that’s definitely better for citizens, not to mention the DDOT employees likely to be layed off under Bing’s plan. DDOT could also hike the fare from $1.50 to $2.00, like SMART is considering. I realize that’s not popular, but it’s better than cutting service, especially totally whacking Sundays!
It’s not clear to me how much Mayor Bing expects to save by hacking at public transit. I suspect, however, it doesn’t equal the cost of the Detroit People Mover (DPM), which seems to be a sacred cow. In 2005, the People Mover cost $10,302,600 to operate. DPM spends $5.32 in addition to every 50-cent fare. DPM’s 2.9 mile circuit doesn’t even compare to the bus system’s route miles along 44 fixed routes. Similarly, DPM carried only about 2 million in 2008 compared to DDOT’s 38.7 million. So, I’m thinking cut the People Mover, which is a $10 million dollar tourist attraction, and keep the bus service so Detroiters can get to work. Seems like simple math to me.
If you live in Detroit, let Mayor Bing (313-224-3400) know your feelings. Attend one of the public hearings. Vote in the Detroit News poll. This issue is critical to the entire region, not just the City of Detroit.