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Detroit to Change Bus Routes Amid Driver Shortage, Low Ridership

The city will alter routes across the city to reduce wait times and improve service as it continues to grapple with a bus driver shortage and low ridership numbers. Full service could resume next year.

(TNS) — Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) is making changes to routes across the city this week in an effort to improve service and reduce bus stop wait times.

The department is creating a schedule that is a more accurate reflection of the service being provided, said C. Mikel Oglesby, Detroit, Mich.,'s executive director of transit. He described the service changes as temporary as DDOT grapples with low ridership and a bus driver shortage, with service possibly being restored early next year.

The changes suspend three routes that DDOT identifies as very low ridership, the No. 11 Clairmount, No. 26 Junction and No. 47 Tireman, and reduces frequency on 17 routes, including the No. 4 Woodward, which will see buses arriving every 20 minutes instead of every 10-12 minutes during the week. A couple of routes will see frequency of buses increase.

The FAST Woodward bus, operated by SMART, is not affected by the changes.

"Today, we're about 20 percent of all DDOT bus services being missed and the buses show up randomly. Riders wait outside for hours, not knowing whether a bus will show up, if at all. So in response, we're taking the amount of service that ... actually goes out on the street each day and reorganizing it into schedules that DDOT can consistently and reliably deliver," Oglesby said.

He said DDOT is short about 90 drivers and ridership is down about 50 percent, from about 70,000 per day to 30,000-35,000 per day.

Hiring is squeezed by an overall difficult hiring climate, and ridership has been hit by the pandemic and changes in ridership trends that reflect more people working from home, he said.

"We are struggling with the same thing that most public agencies (are) and quite frankly any organization that's trying to get people to take these jobs that are available," Oglesby said, noting that the department has 18 drivers currently in training.

DDOT is also weighing signing bonuses but hasn't committed to it, opting for an attendance incentive that runs into December on a trial basis. The amount of the incentive varies, according to Glenn Tolbert, who is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents DDOT bus drivers.

Tolbert is skeptical about the service changes, but he hopes they work out. In particular, he's not convinced that the riders, including some children, on the routes being suspended actually have reasonable alternatives as DDOT says.

"I'm not optimistic, but let's see what this does," he said of the changes. "Right now is too soon to tell."

Tolbert noted that the department's leadership informed the union about the changes, but he said the union had no part in the planning.

"I think they could have come to the local. We could have helped them find ways" to make it better, he said.

DDOT is not unique in its driver shortage.

The Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, which provides bus service in many metro Detroit communities, is down about 80 drivers, according to spokesperson Lacee Shepard.

SMART has started on-site hiring events at bus terminals where it's allowed, has increased the frequency of driver classes and is offering a hiring incentive of up to $3,500 "earned at key points along the first two years of employment."

SMART's service is at about 75 percent of pre-pandemic levels, but is dealing with a changed environment, too.

"Working with major employers, rider and drivers, SMART is targeting more of our service to run the routes, times, and days that have the greatest need for essential workers and growing employment sectors like logistics and services. This reflects the new reality of many jobs and workers from long-time office markets without a daily commute as they work mostly or completely from home," Shepard said.

Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, which advocates on behalf of local transit riders, said her group will be watching to see if DDOT's service levels resume next year, but she's also skeptical.

"If this does result in most buses consistently showing up on schedule, instead of lots of random no-show buses, it would be better for riders. But given DDOT's history, that's a big if," she said. "I'm also disappointed that they have to make these changes because they can't hire and keep enough drivers to operate full service, despite getting lots of federal money specifically sent to keep transit systems from having to cut service."

For information on DDOT service, go to https://detroitmi.gov/departments/detroit-department-transportation; for SMART, https://www.smartbus.org/.

DDOT Service Changes


Routes that have been suspended:

  • 11 Clairmount
  • 26 Junction
  • 47 Tireman

Routes with segments that will no longer operate:

  • 38 Plymouth: Service will not operate east of French and Gratiot.
  • 43 Schoolcraft: Service will not operate east of Manchester and Woodward. Frequency will be reduced from 50 to 60 minutes all week.

Routes with reduced frequency:

  • 1 Vernor: Weekday and Saturday frequency will be reduced from 25 to 30 minutes. Sunday frequency will be reduced from 55 to 60 minutes. No trips will depart between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. all week.
  • 2 Michigan: Saturday frequency will be reduced from 25 to 60 minutes. Sunday frequency will be reduced from 30 to 60 minutes. No trips will depart between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. all week.
  • 3 Grand River: Weekday frequency will be reduced from 15 to 20 minutes. Saturday frequency will be reduced from 20-35 to 30 minutes.
  • 4 Woodward: Frequency will be reduced from 10-12 to 20 minutes on weekdays and 15 to 20 minutes on Saturdays.
  • 5 Van Dyke/ Lafayette: Frequency will be reduced from 20-30 to 30 minutes on weekdays and 50 to 60 minutes on Sundays. Saturday frequency will be improved from 35 to 30 minutes.
  • 6 Gratiot: Frequency will be reduced from 15 to 20 minutes on weekdays, 18 to 30 minutes on Saturdays, and 25 to 30 minutes on Sundays.
  • 7 Seven Mile: Frequency will be reduced from 12-15 to 20 minutes on weekdays and 20 to 30 minutes on Saturdays.
  • 8 Warren: Frequency will be reduced from 20-25 to 30 minutes on weekdays and 45 to 60 minutes on Sundays.
  • 9 Jefferson: Weekday frequency will be reduced from 17 to 20-25 minutes. Sunday frequency will be improved from 40 to 30 minutes. No trips will depart between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. all week.
  • 10 Greenfield: Frequency will be reduced from 15 to 20 minutes on weekdays and from 20 to 30 minutes on Saturdays.
  • 12 Conant: Weekday and Saturday frequency will be reduced from 50 to 60 minutes.
  • 15 Chicago/ Davison: Frequency will be reduced from 55 to 60 minutes on weekdays and from 50 to 60 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • 16 Dexter: Weekday frequency will be reduced from 12-15 to 20 minutes.
  • 17 Eight Mile: Weekday frequency will be reduced from 15-25 to 20-30 minutes. Frequency will be reduced on Saturdays from 25 to 30 minutes and improved from 35 to 30 minutes on Sundays.
  • 19 Fort: Weekday and Saturday frequency will be reduced from 40 to 60 minutes. Sunday frequency will be reduced from 55 to 60 minutes.
  • 32 McNichols: Saturday frequency will be reduced from 40 to 60 minutes.
  • 46 Southfield: Weekday frequency will be reduced from 50 to 60 minutes.

Routes with increased frequency:

  • 31 Mack: Weekday and Saturday frequency will be improved from 30-35 to 30 minutes. Sunday frequency will be reduced from 55 to 60 minutes.
  • 60 Evergreen: Weekday and Saturday frequency will be improved from 30-35 to 30 minutes.

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