Members of the advocacy group Transportation Riders United (TRU) rallied in front of Detroit City Hall Tuesday to deliver a Valentine's Day message about the need for improved bus service. The group was responding to rumors that DDOTs recently contracted private-sector management firm plans to cut employees and overnight bus service.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 President Henry Gaffney has claimed DDOT management plans to cut nighttime service and to lay off as many as 138 employees by the end of February.
Megan Owens, TRU's executive director, said members showed up to hold Mayor Dave Bing to a promise made three months earlier to improve bus service in Detroit.
Owens added that TRU had hoped to hand the mayor a valentine with a message about bus service, but were turned away at the door to his offices.
"Not only are they not improving service and planning more cuts," she said, "they're cutting bus riders literally and figuratively."
Other TRU members spoke before City Council Tuesday to share their concerns about the quality of bus service in Detroit. At the meeting, Mayor Bing's spokeswoman Denise Gardener said rumors about the city scrapping weekend bus service entirely were untrue. She said there would be "reductions, but no eliminations."
TRU members also raised questions about Parsons Brinckerhoff, which was contracted in January to run DDOT but has since subcontracted to another firm, Envisurage.
Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr. said he found it incredible that an additional company had been brought in to manage the bus system.
"I'm a strong believer in eliminating the middleman," he said.
Neither Parsons-Brinckerhoff or Envisurage responded to requests for comment Tuesday.
DDOT currently has 48 bus routes that serve 138 square miles in Detroit and an estimated 140,000 people each day.
A customer service representative for the Detroit Department of Transportation said DDOT would hold a regularly scheduled public meeting on Feb. 16, but had no further information.
After delivering TRU's valentine to Bing, Owens headed to Lansing to participate in the first hearing on a potential Regional Transit Authority, a system proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder that would coordinate mass transit in Metro Detroit.
She said TRU also planned to present a valentine to state Treasurer Andy Dillon, who is overseeing Detroit's Emergency Manager Review Board. If the board decides to recommend an emergency manager for Detroit, that manager would ultimately be responsible for running DDOT.
"We want to make sure no matter who is in charge of buses that they know we want better service," Owens said.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 5:45 p.m. -- Naomi Patton, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bing, confirmed 78 bus drivers and 25 mechanics will be laid off next week -- part of the 1,000 city workers the mayor announced he would be letting go in November. Patton told The Huffington Post that DDOT's monthly public comment meeting, originally scheduled for Feb. 16, has been canceled. DDOT will instead hold public hearings on Feb. 24. As required by law, the hearings will precede changes to service, which Patton said would take effect March 3.
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