Thursday, August 13, 2009

Detroit City Administration Proposes Huge Cuts in Transportation Services

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Detroit may cut weekend bus service

David Josar and Leonard N. Fleming / The Detroit News

Detroit -- The city Department of Transportation has proposed ending Sunday bus service, eliminating service on Saturday nights and curtailing more than a dozen routes by the end of September as the city grapples with its deteriorating finances.

A series of public hearings is scheduled later this month to get feedback before deciding whether to implement any of the ideas.

Bus drivers, daily riders and public advocates warn that the impact could be dire.

"This could be devastating," said Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, a Detroit-based nonprofit agency that advocates for public transit improvements. "There are a lot of people who need the bus to work on weekends or go to church."

Ed Cardenas, a spokesman for Mayor Dave Bing, cautioned that the detailed service cuts initially released by the city "were very preliminary" and had not been properly vetted by ordinary channels.

"This is all part of the normal DDOT process," Cardenas said. "Everything is on the table."

The bus drivers union has warned for weeks the proposed cuts were coming.

"This is just going to put more people out of work. People need the bus to get to their jobs," said Henry Gaffney, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents roughly 1,000 bus drivers. "This is an essential service. People don't ride the bus by choice."

The loss of bus service hits the poorest residents hardest, according to an April 2009 Brooking Institution report.

The report found that 77 percent of jobs in Metro Detroit are 10 miles from the city center, a scenario that makes it harder on the working poor, many of whom don't have access to a vehicle.

Gaffney estimated 50,000 people ride the bus on Sundays, and the Saturday service cut would affect another 20,000 people.

Earlier in the day, the city publicly released a detailed list of the proposed reductions and followed up with a statement that "at this time, there is no service interruption or changes to existing schedules."

The announcement of the proposed cuts came three days after Mayor Dave Bing said he will lay off 1,000 workers in upcoming weeks, and that he needs the city's union employees to take 10 percent pay cuts by Aug. 28 to stave off receivership.

Without those other changes, Bing repeatedly has said the city will not be able to pay its bills starting in October.

On Wednesday, Bing traveled to Chicago where he meet with the two top bond rating agencies, Moody's Investors Service and Standard and Poor's, to discuss the city's myriad financial problems

In January, Standard and Poor's downgraded the city's credit rating to BB, or junk status.

Another bond ratings downgrade could be disastrous for the city because it would make additional borrowing more difficult and more expensive because Detroit would be charged a higher interest rate.

Public transportation in Detroit and the region has always been a sore spot as leaders, starting in the 1940s, decided to invest more money in roads and highways instead of buses, trains and more affordable ways of travel.

In recent years, though, that had changed, Owens said.

She noted that Detroit has just opened its Rosa Parks Transit Center, bike racks are being installed on buses, city drivers are on schedule 85 percent of the time and there is now a proposed light-rail project along Woodward Avenue.

But the proposals being touted by the DDOT could change that.

"This could be crippling," she said.

Although the service reductions vary from route to route, the wait on the No. 36 Oakland Route, for example, would increase from about seven minutes to 27 minutes. On the No. 19 Fort, the wait for buses would jump from about four minutes to 14 minutes.

Already, a spokeswoman for the SMART bus system, which operates in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties but does not receive any funding from Detroit, said they may have to re-evaluate how they operate in the city if a switch by Detroit officials overtaxes their system.

On weekends, SMART buses will pick up and drop off people in Detroit, although at other times they only transport people from outside the city to several key locations and do not pick up other passengers or make additional stops.

"If the city cuts service, we will have to re-evaluate how we are operating," spokeswoman Beth Dryden said.

She added that SMART has seen its bus ridership increase 11 percent on Sundays this fiscal year.

The elimination of weekend service would spell disaster for 26-year-old Ashton Rodgers, who takes the bus from his eastside apartment to a restaurant in Mexicantown where he works.

"This is going to cost me big time," Rodgers said, explaining that since he doesn't have a car, he may need to take a cab home Saturday and to and from work on Sunday. "That's 30 or 40 bucks and I only make $8 an hour."

City Council members are already trying to protect bus services, which some consider a core service.

"While I understand the need to restructure city government to be more in line with available revenues, I think we need to closely examine non-core services before we begin to consider any adjustments in core services such as police, fire, public works and others," Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi said in a statement. "As we move forward to right-size city government, my review will focus first on non-core services and I urge my colleagues to join me in this approach." (313) 222-2073
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Bing tries to ease agencies' fears over Detroit's finances

City is facing a $350-million deficit and threat of receivership


Two days after Detroit Mayor Dave Bing warned that the city is broke and in danger of receivership, he traveled to Chicago on Wednesday to meet with bond-rating agency officials and allay their fears about the city's financial future.

As first reported Wednesday on, Bing met with officials from Moody's Investor Services and Standard & Poor's, two bond-rating agencies that rank the city's financial health and creditworthiness. Bing's press secretary Edward Cardenas said late Wednesday that he could not characterize the meetings because he had not discussed them with Bing.

In January, Moody's, S&P and Fitch Ratings downgraded Detroit's bond rating to junk bond status as a result of the city's ongoing financial deterioration and inability to regain structural balance. About $4.7 billion of the city's debt was affected by the downgrades.

Downgrades can carry severe consequences. Besides higher interest rates on debt, depriving the budget of money to fund services to residents, they could force the city to pay millions of dollars to investors.

Mimi Barker, S&P's director of corporate communications, said it is her company's policy not to comment on internal meetings with customers. "But in general, we stay in touch with our issuers and ask for additional information right along, if we think there is an imminent problem," she said.

John Cline, Moody's spokesman, also declined to discuss the meeting.

On Monday, Bing met with leaders from the city's 50 unions and implored them to take at least a 10% wage reduction by Aug. 28. After the meeting, Bing told reporters that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy and possible receivership.

"Time is not our friend, it is not our ally -- we've got to move fast," Bing said. "We are in a tough, tough predicament."

The city is facing a deficit of at least $350 million and could run out of money by Oct. 1.

Bing warned Monday that the city's 13,000-person workforce will be trimmed, with at least 1,000 more layoffs. The city has already laid off roughly 300 workers since Bing took office in May.

Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY: 313-222-6678 or

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