This Labor Day, as in the past, the Freedom Riders were proud to march with the DDOT and SMART bus drivers of Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 26 and 1564. As we walked down Michigan Avenue – over the tracks once used by ATU Local 26 streetcar drivers – we couldn’t help but think about the need for more displays of rider-driver solidarity.
Too often, riders and drivers are pitted against each other. Across the country, bus drivers have been assaulted by angry passengers pushed to the limit by service cuts and fare increases. If you’ve been on one of the new DDOT buses, you’ll have seen the plastic shields around the driver’s seat, a newfangled design intended to insulate against attacks.
This is a tragedy for all of us. We’ve got to go in the opposite direction, the way shown us by “Boo-yah,” the legendary DDOT driver who greets riders with a friendly fist-bump. We need to build a closer bond between riders and drivers – because both riders and drivers are under much bigger kinds of attack.
Drivers and riders rise and fall together. Drivers lose their jobs when bus schedules are slashed. And underpaid, tired drivers won’t provide five-star service.
It’s not just in Detroit that this is happening. Out in Grand Rapids, drivers for the area’s bus system, The Rapid, are faced with the threat of losing their pensions, even as The Rapid hikes fares for riders – a measure the Grand Rapids Press warns will place a heavy burden on working people and people of color.
It’s past time for riders and drivers to unite. As Benjamin Franklin stated: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Together, we can put the squeeze on the politicians who’ve been starving public transit, and make sure all of us get where we need to go.