When times are tough, it’s all too easy for us to turn on each other. Take Detroit bus riders and bus drivers. They’re both getting squeezed as bus service is cut back through no fault of either group. Tragically, there’s been a series of physical attacks on bus drivers in recent months. For their part, riders complain that some drivers are discourteous.
To paraphrase The Hunger Games, we’ve got to remember “who the real enemy is.” Riders and drivers share a common interest: more buses on the road, in a safe and timely fashion. The real enemy is deep cuts to transit service, and the apathy in the region’s political leadership that keeps letting them happen. Leaders like former bus driver Art Vardiman have been making this point for years, working together with MOSES and bus riders to advocate for fundamental reform.
So when we got a call from the DDOT bus drivers union, ATU Local 26, we were there this past Saturday to speak up for more transit funding in solidarity with the drivers. Michael Seunagal of Highland Park, who’s visually impaired and relies on the bus to travel safely around the region, gave testimony on why more investment is bus service for people like him.
Seunagal and other Freedom Riders told the politicians in attendance that we need real action to put more money into our bus systems. We get what we pay for: Metro Detroit invests just one-third the average amount in transit. It’s no wonder we’ve got so little of it. Mark Schauer, candidate for Governor, told Seunagal he got the message. “When I was in Battle Creek,” he said, “people said we should just buy everyone a car, instead of pay for buses. I told them it didn’t work like that.”
We need a common commitment to transit from all our political leaders, regardless of party or level of government. To make that happen, we need a united front among bus riders and drivers. We’re all looking to get where we need to go in life, and when we’re on a bus, we’re all in it together. The ATU motto says “Freedom Through Organization,” and that goes for riders too. To keep our buses in the road, we’ve all got to put ourselves in the driver’s seat, and steer a course towards a future with more public transit, not less.