Over 90 percent of Detroit bus drivers called out of work en masse today after they said the overcrowded Detroit Department Of Transit buses were not adhering to Center for Disease Control guidelines for prevention of spreading Coronavirus, as the state shut down all schools, bars, and restaurants. Detroit public transit was hanging on by a thread during easier times, but now that the world has been turned upside down, the overstressed service has given way.
[Update: March 17, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Bus drivers came to a deal with Mayor Mike Duggan to help preserve bus drivers’ safety. The city is waving fees, so customers won’t have to touch the fare box and riders will enter and exit via the rear of the bus, according to the Metro Times. Bus service should resume 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.]
As of this writing, Michigan has 54 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, with six being in the city of Detroit and eight in the same county.
Early this morning, DDOT announced that less than 10 percent of drivers had shown up for work and DDOT was encouraging riders to “seek other forms of transportation.” An hour later, all bus service was canceled. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is meeting with bus drivers today about what can be done to protect drivers and get the buses back on the road, according to the Detroit Free Press.
DDOT driver Schetrone Collier told WDIV in Detroit that driving overcrowded buses in Detroit is just too great a risk.
(The CDC) already said not more than 10 people in a setting. I carry 75 people at a time, on a bus yesterday standing up around me. No hand sanitizer, no gloves from the department.
Of course, like everywhere else, the true scope of the outbreak is unknown due to the general unavailability of tests. Osborn High School on the city’s east side has one positive case from an employee, with other employees showing symptoms, Chalkbeat reports.
I appreciate the bind DDOT is in, but asking riders to seek other forms of transportation is a laughable idea in Detroit, where you have to be pretty desperate for transit to attempt the bus in the first place. DDOT is known for buses being hours late, lacking bus shelters in a place where weather and temperature can swing wildly in a day and often bursting at capacity on busier routes. The astronomically high auto insurance, the highest in the nation in fact, keeps the many low-income residents from owning their own transportation, so the 85,000 daily riders who take DDOT don’t have a lot of options.
Public transit is a thorny issue in the city, especially as it relates to the larger metro area. Detroit is the only city in America where a separate bus system, known as SMART, serves the suburbs. That means a Detroiter traveling outside the city limit has to disembark a DDOT bus and pay for a new ride on a SMART (SMART has a few limited lines that come into the city, like an express route which takes suburb workers directly to and from downtown via Woodward Ave. DDOT also serves Hamtramck and Highland Park, which are cities within the borders of Detroit) Update March 17, 2020 12:03 P.M, SMART is offering services free of charge until further notice.
Considering the vast majority of jobs in the area are found in the suburbs, this system is seen as an impediment to getting some of the most at-need residents employment. The system also has racist overtones, keeping Detroit, a city with a population that is 80 percent black, in a kind of dead transit zone while wealthy white Detroit landowners hollow out the city’s more energetic areas with parking lots, allowing the white suburbanites who visit the city to ignore transit issues indefinitely.
The wealthier and whiter suburban residents recently voted down the latest attempt to fix this inequity via a regional transit mileage, as they have every attempt in the last ten years.
The current outbreak is showing the fault lines all over American life, and like so many other breaking points, this one could have been resolved long ago. I have to hope for my fellow Detroiters that we’ll remember these lessons once the danger has passed.