DDOT Service Cuts, Department Changes Addressed At City Council Meeting

City Council Grills DDOT On Bus Cuts, Management

After less than a week on the job, Detroit Department of Transportation CEO Ron Freeland painted a grim portrait of Detroit's bus service at a Monday City Council meeting.

DDOT's on-time performance is 65 percent, compared to the industry standard of 85 percent. Buses miss service on 33 percent of their stops every day. Freeland said the department's monthly parts repair bills far exceed national standards and that poor maintenance has forced the department to take on about 70 more buses than it needs.

The report-back comes after Mayor Dave Bing announced last week that Freeland would head DDOT, joining the private management team hired to run the bus department as the city looks to save money on its operating costs.

Detroit in January contracted bus operations the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has subcontracted to a firm called Envisurage.

With the new management come drastic service cuts for DDOT riders. The department announced it will end 1 a.m to 4 a.m bus service and eliminate some routes beginning Saturday. More than 100 bus drivers and mechanics will be laid off.

Bing's Chief Executive Officer Chris Brown responded to questions as Council's Committee on Public Health and Safety grilled the officials, looking for answers on bus service cuts and the selection process for DDOT's new private management company.

Councilman James Tate asked whether the mayor's administration would take disciplinary action for DDOT's poor performance.

Brown fired back: "I got rid of the entire staff. How's that for discipline?"

The administration had originally considered outsourcing DDOT's management permanently, according to Brown, but instead chose a temporary contract to observe and investigate the full extent of the department's problems. The city will pay Parsons Brinckerhoff $2 million for an 11-month contract period, but Brown said that cost is less than the previous DDOT management's salaries.

He added the mayor's office awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff and Envisurage the contract to run DDOT because of the companies' "unique" international reputation.

Brown also offered a justification for the bus service cuts, saying the department examined route usage and and decided to cut the least-used routes and times, which included 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. service.

Freeland said he intends to improve remaining bus service and timeliness and focus on more efficient bus maintenance. The department will begin implementing service evaluations in three weeks.

Freeland also expressed interest in switching over to a cashless fare system that would rely completely on swipe cards, but he said such a decision would require public input.

Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown asked Freeland how the body could help improve Detroit's bus system.

"We need you to be involved," Freeland replied, "to give us some time and to hold our feet to the fire."

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