Freedom Riders Kick Off DDOT Right-to-Know Petition Drive at State of the City


Last night, the Freedom Riders kicked off our petition to the Mayor outside his State of the City address at the Redford Theater. The petition calls on the Mayor to make his work on the DDOT bus system publicly accountable by including DDOT performance measures on his Detroit Dashboard.

Mayor Duggan has called fixing DDOT his number-one priority, but the Dashboard – a weekly summary of efforts to improve city services – does not feature regular DDOT performance information. In 2014, DDOT showed halting progress, but it’s critical that we hold the Mayor to his promise to fix the system once and for all, so Detroit has the quality bus service its citizens need and deserve.

We found a receptive crowd of citizens and officials outside the theater. We collected about a hundred signatures, including one from Mayor Duggan’s sister-in-law, and distributed fliers to hundreds more. Our main priority is collecting paper petitions on the buses and beyond – contact us at motorcityfreedomriders [at] to obtain copies – but you can also sign the online version at this link.

Calling the suburban conscience: to help people like James Robertson, get your city into SMART

robertson-bus livermore-1995 SMART parade

The extraordinary story of Detroit’s James Robertson and his 21-mile post-bus trek to work in Rochester Hills has ricocheted around the world and inspired an outpouring of donations to help Robertson buy a car. But as Stephen Henderson of the Free Press and our allies at Transportation Riders United have noted, there are thousands of other people who undergo similar – if somewhat less lengthy – endurance tests in consequence of our failure to invest in transit.

Robertson’s story points up several different issues in metro Detroit’s transit tangle. At the end of the day, though, there’s one key action that can help to make things right: Residents of suburbs that “opt out” of SMART need to get their elected officials to bring buses back to their communities. Want to be part of the solution? Read on. Continue reading “Calling the suburban conscience: to help people like James Robertson, get your city into SMART”

DDOT Stats Reveal Slow Progress in 2014, Despite Summer Slump

DDOT 2014 PM

DDOT statistics obtained by our allies at Transportation Riders United show that the City of Detroit’s bus system made halting progress in 2014, but still doesn’t get nearly enough buses on the road to run scheduled service.

The statistics show daily morning and evening “pullout” – the number of buses that actually make it out of the city’s garages. They don’t indicate on-time performance.

Mayor Duggan took office in January 2014 with a pledge to get city buses running on time. DDOT pullout showed steady improvement for the first half of the year, surpassing 200 afternoon buses in May. However, it dipped significantly over the summer, to a low of scarcely 170 buses in August afternoons. (The low points on the graph are weekends, when much less service is scheduled.) Over the fall, service gradually improved, and by the close of the year, afternoon pullout was once again hitting 200 with some level of consistency. Continue reading “DDOT Stats Reveal Slow Progress in 2014, Despite Summer Slump”

New DDOT Buses Can’t Arrive Too Soon


At Mayor Duggan’s press conference last Thursday in DDOT’s Warren Avenue bus garage, the Freedom Riders’ Regina DuBose was on hand to speak to the needs of the riding public as DDOT unveiled the first seven of 80 brand-new buses scheduled to arrive this year.

DuBose called the buses a “morale booster.” However, they didn’t come quite soon enough for her that day. After waiting for the 53 bus at the corner of Woodward and McNichols, she ended up calling a taxi so she could get to the event on time.

“New buses are nice,” she said afterwards, “but the battle is not over.”

The Mayor reiterated that poor bus service was the number-one complaint he received from citizens. “I have a goal that we are going to run a first-class bus system in the City of Detroit,” he said. “We’re not close to that goal yet, but we’re heading in the right direction. And 2015 is going to be the year that DDOT actually runs bus service according to its published schedules.”

Mark those words, riders. We need to do everything we can to make sure that happens.

Our Op-Ed in the Free Press

This past Saturday’s Detroit Free Press featured an opinion article from Freedom Riders Regina DuBose and Pat Hammer, calling on SMART to restore the city-suburb services eliminated in 2011.

“Imagine that metro Detroit’s freeways were open only six hours a day and closed on weekends,” they ask. (Hard to imagine, we know.) “In effect, this is what SMART bus riders have faced for three years.”

One point in the original piece that didn’t make it into the article: the particular importance of restoring service along the routes designated as priorities by the Regional Transit Authority: Woodward, Gratiot, and Michigan Avenue.

If you’d like to weigh in with the SMART Board of Directors, their next meeting will be Thursday, January 22, 2 pm at SMART offices in the Buhl Building, 535 Griswold, downtown Detroit.

2014 in Transit: Best of the Bus, Worst of the Waits


As the year comes to a close, the Freedom Riders have a lot to be thankful for. Hundreds of thousands of people cast votes for transit, a clear signal that the public wants progress. At long last, there are signs of progress for the long-suffering Detroit bus system as well as the Regional Transit Authority. At the same time, there’s no denying the disappointments: the RTA’s decision to postpone a regional vote on transit funding to 2016, and the continuing reality of ragged bus service in Detroit and the suburbs. Here’s a quick take on the best bus news, and the worst of the waits, that we experienced this past year. Continue reading “2014 in Transit: Best of the Bus, Worst of the Waits”

DDOT’s Dirks Says Detroit Bus Service Will Get Better, But Cuts Need to Be Turned Around

Rider Regina Dubose (right) shares concerns with Dirks.

In his fourth meeting with the Motor City Freedom Riders this year, Detroit Department of Transportation Director Dan Dirks said the Motor City’s long-suffering bus system is on its way to recovery.

The Freedom Riders had a request for Dirks this past November 21: make DDOT’s bus performance information public, so Detroiters know whether we’re making progress towards on-time buses. On our previous visits, we’d seen this information posted in the DDOT headquarters building, but Dirks had said he preferred to wait before releasing the information publicly.

“It’s like the doctor taking your pulse,” said member Glenn Maxwell. “We want to see demonstrated improvement.”

Dirks agreed to post the information on the DDOT website. (You can find it there under News and Events.) He also told us he’d ask Mayor Duggan to make DDOT performance information a part of the Mayor’s Detroit Dashboard. The Dashboard currently lists things like streetlight installation, demolitions, and emergency response times, but not DDOT information – despite the fact that Duggan has said improving DDOT is his top priority.

Continue reading “DDOT’s Dirks Says Detroit Bus Service Will Get Better, But Cuts Need to Be Turned Around”

Why Restore Regional SMART Service?


As the next SMART board meeting approaches (Thurs., Sept. 25, Buhl Building – fifth floor, 535 Griswold, Detroit), we think it’s important to lay out exactly why we’re so passionate about restoring the city-suburb service we lost in 2011. Most people in the metro region don’t know about the 2011 SMART cuts, and what a blow they were to folks trying to get around via transit. We need to change this. Below, you’ll find our effort at a summary of the situation. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday!

Continue reading “Why Restore Regional SMART Service?”

SMART’s Hertel Hurt by Rider Requests for Restored Service

Giving testimony at the SMART Board of Directors meeting, August 28, 2014.
Giving testimony at the SMART Board of Directors meeting, August 28, 2014.

After many hours of work getting out the vote to keep SMART buses running, we’d hoped that our requests for SMART to consider bus service improvements would be considered in good faith, even if not accepted outright. Unfortunately, we were disappointed.

Yesterday, we went to the SMART Board of Directors meeting to celebrate the metro region’s overwhelming vote of confidence for transit in the August 5 election. We also asked SMART to consider using some portion of the additional $28 million they’ll be getting each year to bring back some level of bus service between Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Outside of morning and evening commute periods, this service was eliminated in December 2011, adding countless hours of waiting for those riders who didn’t give up on getting around by bus entirely.

In public comments, we stressed that the lack of transit between city and suburbs was a hardship on either side of Eight Mile.  “When I would be spending money in the rest of the region,” said Detroit bus rider Syri Simpson, “I’m not able to get out there.” Oakland County resident Tom Zerafa said he’d given up attending Tigers night games since SMART cut evening service into Detroit. “I come down to Comerica Park,” he said, “and I can’t get home.”

However, SMART General Manager John Hertel did not think the possibility of restoring service should be discussed.

SMART’s John Hertel.

After public comment, Hertel thanked MOSES and Transportation Riders United (TRU) for help getting out the vote, but expressed disappointment that a recent TRU newsletter had not thanked “the people of SMART” among the groups responsible for the election victory. Thanking the SMART board for their “courage” in allowing a millage increase, he said he was glad the board didn’t engage in posturing. “Posturing is a waste of time, and it takes you in wrong directions,” he said.

“You in the audience,” Hertel said, “ought to be pointing out [the need for transit] out to others,” including politicians and the media. He said SMART needed to replace its aging bus fleet, and renegotiate contracts with its workers, before it could consider any service changes. “If we finally buy the buses, and we get through the contract negotiations, and there’s money left over, the board and I would be thrilled to get new service out there,” he promised. Anyone who told riders that restored service would be possible with the millage increase, said Hertel, was either “not informed” or “purposely attempting to mislead you.”

Hertel is right that much of SMART’s new revenue is needed for new buses, and we agree that SMART’s hardworking drivers and other staff deserve better compensation after years of cuts. At the same time, it seems only reasonable to us that SMART’s current planning should consider what revenue can be used for bringing back at least some of the bus service we’ve lost. Even adding one bus every half hour on routes like Gratiot, Woodward, and Michigan would be a step up from the current situation. We don’t believe it’s “posturing” to talk about that possibility.

We get out the vote for SMART in the Clawson July 4 parade.
We helped get out the vote for SMART in the Clawson July 4 parade.

Keith Thomas summarized our thoughts as we left the meeting. “We shouldn’t have to beg for buses,” he said. But if we do need to speak up, we shouldn’t shy away from it. Those buses are public transportation, and the public deserves a say in where we go. We’ll be working to figure out how we might bring SMART’s leaders around to that understanding. For now, you can share your concerns with SMART at or call the agency at (313) 223-2100. Edited: SMART has requested that we use the SMART customer feedback form at this link or call 866.962.5515 to speak with a customer service representative so that our comments can be more easily tabulated.


Speaking Up for Rider-Driver Solidarity

Freedom Rider Michael Seunagal describes the need for transit

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.”

DDOT retiree Art Vardiman makes the ask to candidate Mark Schauer

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.