Pledge to cover all bus routes in Detroit this year with on-time service and clean, safe buses

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One of the more intriguing promises Mayor Mike Duggan made in his recent State of the City speech is to bring Detroit’s public transportation system in line with the needs of a 21st century city.

What the mayor pledged was remarkable, given the incompetent performance of the city’s bus system. By this summer, he said he will have all of the routes covered and all of the buses running on schedule.

That would be nothing short of a miracle for Detroit’s commuters and students, who too often endure hours-long trips just to travel a few miles to work and school.

The mayor plans to add 80 new buses by August, a rate of approximately 10 per month. The buses are funded 80 percent by federal funds, and 20 percent by matching funds from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The new coaches can’t come quickly enough, particularly as Detroit saw the fastest growth in car-less households — a 5 percent increase — of the 30 largest cities in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

City buses are 9.5 years old on average, and many in the 295-bus fleet don’t make it out of the depot some days because of staffing or mechanical issues. Buses that have been in accidents too often are put back onto the roads without sufficient repairs.

Rochester, New York, and Pittsburgh graciously gave up their spots in the production schedule to help the Detroit Department of Transportation get its buses sooner.

But it’s going to take more than new buses to solve the structural issues that have caused the chronic problems.

Detroit’s buses haven’t run consistently on time in 20 years. Safety on buses remains uncertain. Riding conditions and wait times, especially in the extreme heat or extreme cold, are abysmal. And past mismanagement of federal funds has cheated the system of resources it needed to improve.

Duggan said the Detroit Police Department has dedicated 29 new transit officers to the DDOT system, and that on-board cameras are being added to all buses.

Those additions should improve safety on the bus lines, a big reason for declining ridership. Incidents on the buses have dropped 50 percent over the past year.

The city will be making other improvements to DDOT’s operations and street management service, according to director Dan Dirks.

Software upgrades, preventive maintenance monitoring programs, and improvements to customer service, scheduling and dispatch will be critical to ensuring quality of service actually gets better.

DDOT also has a free app available for Apple and Android smartphones that allows riders to check the real time status of buses, plan a trip and send in suggestions.

Duggan has promised safe, clean buses that run on time and take commuters where they need to go.

Meeting that pledge is an essential step in Detroit’s comeback.

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