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Trouble bus-ting out

Bing's proposed bus cuts prompt protests and raucous hearings

Protesters razz Mayor Bing on his proposed bus service cuts outside the Rosa Parks Transit Center.
A view from the raucous Aug. 25 meeting inside the transit center.
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Published 8/26/2009

Just so everyone knows from the get-go, News Hits fully realizes that, in terms of municipal finances, the city of Detroit truly is in the deepest kind of shit. We've been there for a while, but it wasn't all that obvious to most because of Kwame Kilpatrick's budgetary flimflam.

But when you talk about accumulated budget deficits of $300 million or more, then things are more than serious. If this were a hospital, the city would be on life support. The threat of insolvency is frighteningly real.

Even so, we are stupefied by Mayor Dave Bing's proposal to help balance the budget by stopping city bus service after 6 p.m. on Saturdays and not starting it again until Monday morning. As we wrote last week, it's a cut that will hit hard a large portion of the city's population that can least afford it.

Having just stopped by the new Rosa Parks Transit Center downtown, where one in a series of public hearings on the proposed cutbacks was being held, News Hits is wondering whether Bingo had any clue what kind of trouble he was getting himself into by making this proposal.

Hundreds of angry people — many of them bus drivers, but also lots of riders — showed up to vent. At a brief rally outside beforehand, shouts of "Bing must go!" were frequent.

Among those we talked with was a guy named Quintin Williams, who watched the raucous gathering from his wheelchair. Unable to walk since a car accident in 1991, he was nonetheless able to continue driving until three years ago. An epileptic, he suffered a seizure while behind the wheel, and was in another wreck. Which is why, these days, he relies on the city's bus system to get around town.

News Hits has noticed some anonymous yahoos posting comments on the Web, talking about how people like Williams can just ask friends or family to give them rides when the buses aren't running. The people saying that don't have a clue about the reality people like Williams face. When you are asking for favors, the well is only so deep, and you can only go to it so often before the asking grows old. No one likes feeling obligated to others, Williams explains. You want to be able to fend for yourself. A functioning transit system provides that opportunity.

We also ran into Dia Pearce, political director for Unite Here, which represents hotel, casino and food service workers in the hospitality industry. She told us that about 40 percent of the union's metro Detroit members — about 4,000 people — rely on the bus to get to and from work.

Which means a lot of Saturday night and Sunday workers are in fear of losing their jobs if Bing's proposal is carried out.

Also in the crowd was Tom Barrow, who's facing off against Bing in November's election. Now, any serious handicapper would have to say that Barrow is a long shot. But watching people pumping his hand Tuesday morning, we'd say that shot became a little less long. Bing's proposal only reinforces Barrow's contention that Bing is an outsider who lacks an understanding of the city. We should note, too, that, at the outset of the public hearing, Bingo's man in the hot seat, newly appointed Chief Administrative Officer Charlie Beckham, was trying to get the crowd to settle down, repeatedly telling them, "We haven't made a final decision yet."

Our bet is, once that decision is made, the buses are going to keep rolling, every day. Too many people are too pissed off to think otherwise, no matter how deep the ocean of red ink the city is facing.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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