A public hearing at the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit drew a sparse crowd Thursday, but those who attended expressed frustration with the Detroit Department of Transportation's recent and planned changes to bus service.
DDOT officials unveiled the department's new "415 Plan," set to take effect on April 30. Under the plan, the agency will concentrate on keeping wait times for buses under 15 minutes on the city's four busiest routes, along Dexter, Grand River, Gratiot and Woodward Avenue.
The plan is part of DDOT's overall restructuring. Mayor Dave Bing put the struggling department under a private management company earlier this year, and in February DDOT announced major changes to bus service, eliminating overnight service entirely.
According to DDOT's new CEO, Ronald Freeland, the agency's objective is to match customer demand with available buses. He noted that some buses were running under capacity and that service is improving.
"We've had a 16 percent improvement in buses that are actually deployed," Freeland told HuffPost on Wednesday. "We've had more buses on street, had less breakdowns and peak reliability has improved."
The increase in deployment is based on a study comparing January and February of this year. Fleet reliability, which tracks miles between bus breakdowns, improved by 42 percent in those months. The numbers reflect changes in DDOT's management as well as the addition of new federally-funded buses to the fleet.
But DDOT riders at the hearing were less than thrilled about revisions in the schedules that will affect about 30 bus stops. Most of the changes will increase wait times for riders.
The 15 attendees hardly matched a rambunctious 100-strong crowd at a similar February meeting, when DDOT first announced service cuts. But several attendees accused DDOT of purposefully under-promoting Thursday's legally-required hearing.
Ivas Marie Robertson, 69, a part-time childcare worker who lives in Detroit, called the meeting "a farce." Robertson said DDOT buses are poorly coordinated and she finds having to transfer between buses especially frustrating.
"This was just ridiculous. There was no posters at the transit center. The media did not get it out like they did before," she said. "You can't give word to mouth if you don't know what to give word to mouth about. "
Marguerite Maddox, 56, of Detroit, rides the bus with a service dog that helps her with hearing-related issues. She said she's concerned about potential overcrowding and drivers passing people up. She also wished DDOT had promoted the meeting better. "We need to communicate better," she said. "We need to put up posters more."
Sheila Johnson, a liaison from the mayor's office, said DDOT had advertised the meetings in several publications, including the Detroit News and Free Press. "We don't have any control over people's decisions to come," she said. "No less was done than in previous hearings."
Freeland insisted that the agency is listening to rider concerns about issues like overcrowding.
"We're making services changes to actually improve overall service," he said. "We want to increase service on some of the lines. We also want to stay within our budget for fiscal year 2013."
According to an analysis from Transportation Riders United, an advocacy group, Detroit's bus system has cut about half its service since 2005.
TRU Executive Director Megan Owens said the recent cuts are only part of the picture of what's happening to Detroit's public transit system. "By themselves these cuts are an irritant -- a challenge for riders who have to wait longer to ride," she said. "This is just the latest in many many series of cuts over the last six years."
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