Tags: Detroit

Detroit Bus Drivers’ Sick-Out


Each morning, Detroit’s municipal bus service requires about 180 drivers, but yesterday, 156 called in sick. No flu epidemic here, but it was in some sense a public-health issue: Those who phoned in were reportedly reacting to a recent spate of violence against bus drivers. In the past week alone, two drivers were stabbed, one was assaulted, and another had urine thrown at her.

These acts of violence are wholly unacceptable, but there’s reason to question whether bus drivers’ profession puts them at special risk. Detroit is a bloody city. As of August alone, 2013 had already seen 197 murders, 6,610 aggravated assaults, and 543 rapes.

And increased safety protections for bus drivers are already underway. The Obama administration recently announced it will send a $320 million bailout package to Detroit, $140 million of which will go toward transportation. Around $24 million will be spent on measures that directly address driver safety.

But the bus-drivers’ union still isn’t satisfied. Last week, it rejected a new contract offer, and there are conflicting accounts as to whether that was directly behind Monday’s sick-out.

Furthermore, the bus-drivers’ union has a precedent of greed: Back in 2011, if you’ll recall, a union contract mandated that the city continue to pay around 100 drivers who weren’t even behind the wheel thanks to a bus shortage. Their average salary then was $37,000 — a modest middle-class wage. But compared with their fellow residents, Detroit bus drivers were doing pretty well; the average per capita cash income is only $15,261.

And Detroit’s residents are already fed up with the bus service that they’re getting (or more often, not getting), I learned last month:

When [Mayoral Candidate Benny] Napoleon spoke at a senior center, he focused on crime prevention, his specialty — but also talked up how Detroit has revitalized its downtown at the expense of his neighborhoods, a criticism that subtly played on class and potentially race. But when it came time for Napoleon to accept questions, most of the residents just wanted to know how he’d make the buses run on time.

Deborah Hogans, an older woman in a wheelchair, recounted to me how she’d tried to take the bus to the hospital the day before. “I was supposed to be getting off to go to [the hospital], and the bus driver took me all the way to Eight Mile, and then brought me back [home],” she said. “That was the worst experience, and I was scared, and [another rider] was going to jump on the bus driver. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m gonna be in the middle of a beat-down on a bus driver,’ and I didn’t even get to where I wanted to go.”

However valid Detroit drivers’ safety concerns are, it’s unlikely they’ll win much support if their tactic is to abandon the city’s neediest riders at the bus stop.

Tags: Detroit

Bad Timing for Detroit’s ‘America’s Comeback City’ Ads, Huh?


Department of Bad Timing:

After five years of virtual silence during the region’s economic free fall, Detroit is on the verge of mounting a major marketing push to reestablish the city as a host of state and national meetings and conventions.

“Detroit, America’s Great Comeback City” will be the tagline for the new campaign, to launch around July 1 with national TV, radio and print ads, plus social media outreach. It’s the first national sales pitch in five years, but this time it’s built on existing momentum, including a 68% increase in hotel night stays from 2011-2012.

There’s also the $300-million expansion and upgrade of Cobo Center to brag about and some impressive already-booked business to build upon.

Maybe the “Help Us Come Back City”?

Tags: Detroit

It’s Not Like We Weren’t Warned About Detroit’s Dire Future


From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Detroit Is Bankrupt. Time to Turn the Whole Thing Over to Omni Consumer Products.

The least surprising shock of 2013:

Detroit, the once-thriving Midwest metropolis that gave birth to the nation’s auto industry, is now the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

Kevyn Orr, the city’s appointed emergency manager, formally sought federal bankruptcy court protection on Thursday after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, approved the filing, deeming the decision necessary “as a last resort to return this great city to financial and civic health for its residents and taxpayers.”

“I know many will see this as a low point in the city’s history,” Snyder wrote in a letter authorizing the bankruptcy filing. “If so, I think it will also be the foundation of the city’s future — a statement I cannot make in confidence absent giving the city a chance for a fresh start, without burdens of debt it cannot hope to fully pay.”

In the letter, Snyder explained his decision by citing statistics that have hobbled the city’s operations:

• The city’s unemployment rate has nearly tripled since 2000 and is more than double the national average.

• The homicide rate is at historically high levels, and the city has been named among America’s most dangerous for more than 20 years.

• Detroiters wait an average of 58 minutes for police to respond, compared with the national average of 11 minutes.

• An estimated 40% of the city’s street lights didn’t work in the first quarter of 2013.

• Roughly 78,000 city structures have been abandoned.

Funny to think how much of Obama’s message in 2012 was how wrong Romney was for writing an op-ed that ran with the headline, “Let Detroit go Bankrupt.” (Romney was in fact referring to the Big Three automakers and the bailout of the auto industry.) Chuck Todd may not be able to believe it, but a lot of folks see the latest developments as one more sign that the president brags about improvement even as circumstances actually get worse — turning a blind eye to Detroit, unsustainable local and state spending, and overall urban decay.

Conn Carroll: “I love how the standard liberal reaction to Detroit going bankrupt is to blame all the missing people. Why do you think they left, geniuses?”

Still, people predicted a dystopian, anarchic, crime-ridden future for Detroit going back to the late 1980s. In fact, as we look back on those fears of the future, the obvious solution is right there, all along:

Oh, like a robot cop would make today’s Detroit any worse.

Tags: Detroit

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