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Washington โ€” Vice President Joe Biden touted Detroit's M-1 rail system and the Transportation Department's award of funds for 50 new buses for the Motor City.

"Detroit's getting off its back. It's on its knees. It's about to stand up," Biden said at a forum on commuting sponsored by the Washington Post at a local theater. He praised Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan as a "great mayor. ... I'm serious โ€” a really can-do guy."

Biden also suggested self-driving cars may be in place faster than many experts have predicted.

Last month, the U.S. Transportation Department announced it was awarding the city $25.9 million to buy as many as 50 new hybrid and clean diesel buses that will ease overcrowding, reduce wait times, and provide more accessible and reliable service where 35 percent of the people live below the poverty line. They will replace aging vehicles that have been "plagued by maintenance issues, resulting in better on-time service, as well as reduced carbon emissions," the department said.

It marked the second boost from Washington in less than a year for the city's beleaguered bus system. In December, the Federal Transit Administration approved $41.6 million to overhaul 60 buses, improve facilities and acquire security equipment.

The Transportation Department said 60 percent of Detroiters don't have access to a car. "They rely on buses," Biden said. "They don't have enough buses so we just arranged for" funding for more buses.

"What does mean? It means people can keep the few jobs they have out there. They don't show up late. They are actually able to be on time. ... It means a working mom doesn't have to take two buses that take two hours to get to work."

He also praised the M-1 rail system "going right through the center of town."

"The point is that it matters. Transportation and convenient transportation, efficient transportation matter to how people can live their lives," Biden said.

Biden also praised Google Inc. for working on self-driving cars and Tesla Motors Inc. for building electric vehicles.

"Tesla โ€” I shouldn't say Tesla because I'm going to be accused of promoting a brand. But here's the deal: They are about to put a car on the market that goes 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds," Biden said referring a new souped-up version of the Model S that the automaker unveiled earlier this month. "Google's working to develop self-driving cars, which I predict will be around in the next four or five years. The possibilities are immense."

Self-driving cars could save lives and improve productivity, Biden said. "It's gigantic," he said.

Duggan won permission in January from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to hire a new bus director, after he saw buses running behind schedule while residents waited in subzero temperatures. Duggan had been pushing the Obama administration for bus funding and spoke with Biden about it.

Also last month, the Transportation Department awarded a $12.2 million federal grant to help finish the 3.31-mile M-1 streetcar project.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

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