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Detroit's Bus System gets Even Worse

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In Detroit, bus ride is bumpy

Maintenance issues rise during dispute

August 7, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Many Detroit bus riders didn't think it was possible for the city's troubled bus system to get worse.

But since spring, when the mayor announced layoffs in the Department of Transportation, riders say service is even shoddier and dicier. In some cases, riders say they have waited three hours for buses on the city's busiest routes.

"Everybody is getting frustrated," said Tommy Meadows, a disabled bus rider who said he has waited hours just to take a 10-minute ride downtown. "Bus drivers are frustrated. The riders are frustrated."

The debate about the city's bus service, a hot topic since Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced more than 100 layoffs in the maintenance division, has intensified.

The workers union and the administration blame each other.

In letters to the City Council, Transportation Director Norman White said vandalism is up since April, when Kilpatrick announced the layoffs and cut overtime for bus mechanics. Broken windows, plastic bags placed in fuel tanks and urine on the seats are more common, he said.

No one has been disciplined or charged in any of the incidents.

White has said the incidents have reduced the number of buses on the road.

According to DDOT data released Friday, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of buses on the street. From January to April, almost 100 percent of the buses were in service during the day shift, but by August, only 60 percent were rolling.

White said the department is reassigning workers and changing bus schedules to reduce delays.

Leamon Wilson, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 312, denies union sabotage.

"There's no easier way to get the blame off you than to blame someone else," he said.

He maintains the layoffs, overtime cuts and a lack of parts and equipment are to blame. He said the city is lackadaisical about the problems.

The escalating tensions between the administration and the union has led to noisy protests by workers in front of City Hall and department headquarters and contentious City Council meetings, where the members are split on the issue.

One councilwoman, JoAnn Watson, is under fire for supporting union workers in discussions about a general strike. Watson said she has done nothing wrong.

In the meantime, riders are caught in the middle and complain they see no end to the troubles. Besides delays, riders say they're riding filthy buses that often break down or run out of gas.

"You got the unions fighting for what they want. You got the administration, I don't know where they're going," said Meadows, a vocal transportation advocate. "Everybody is fighting . . . and nobody is concerned about the public."

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or [email protected]

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