Disability Justice Activists Resist Transdev Contract for Paratransit

January 16, 2023

Disability Justice Activists Resist
Transdev Contract for Paratransit

Early in 2022, members of the Transit Justice Team, Warriors on Wheels (WOW) and other transit advocates and activists successfully organized and won budget increases for the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) fixed-line bus service and paratransit service. Fixed-line service refers to DDOT’s regular bus service in contrast to paratransit, which is a specialized and federally funded bus service for individuals with disabilities that cannot use the regular bus service. Paratransit, like fixed-line bus service, charges a fare for all trips but is requested in advance and has vehicles that are designed to accommodate people with a variety of disabilities. Paratransit is a federally funded public service, like regular bus service, but DDOT has contracted out paratransit services for years to a French based company named Transdev. 

Transdev overall had complete control over the administration and operation of DDOT paratransit services for several years, including subcontracting with Metro Lift and other transportation companies, processing the thousands of complaints filed by disabled riders against them for unreliable services and lack of response to customer needs. 

In November 2022 - the City of Detroit – Office of Contracting and Procurement proposed a new 5-year contract with Transdev operating 70% of paratransit rides and People’s Express managing the remaining 30% of paratransit rides. The contract would extend Transdev service until 2027 along with People’s Express, with Transdev receiving over $50 million and People’s Express at over $15 million. However, Warriors on Wheels (WOW) and The National Federation of the Blind opposed the contract and called on city council to renegotiate terms and not include Transdev in the contract. On November 22nd, the deadline and last day of city council before recess, council members debated and eventually voted NO on Transdev contract renewal.

In response, the DDOT Director announced cuts of up to 70% of cuts to para transit service and only prioritize medically necessary trips. The U.S. Department of Transportation even issued a warning in a letter to DDOT to correct the issue and clarified that DDOT cannot limit paratransit rides to medical-trips only and warned DDOT if they did not correct the paratransit issue with city council, they risk the Federal Transit Administration cutting off federal funds to DDOT.  Also, riders under the ADA could file lawsuits against the department.

In December, with the threat of federal intervention and penalty, the Mayor  eventually invoked executive emergency power to bypass the city council and approve emergency contracts to subcontractors that will provide paratransit under the new paratransit structure administered by DDOT. 

The outcome is that full paratransit services will be provided in 2023 with no interruption and cuts and increased public accountability and oversight over service. The subcontractors include Big Star Transit, Checker Cab Company, Delray United Action Council, and Moe Transportation under a 6-month emergency contract. Transdev is not included nor involved in the new contract. Thanks to the organizing efforts of Warriors on Wheels, DPP Transit Justice Team, National Federation of the Blind and other disability justice advocates, paratransit riders in Detroit no longer must contend with the disrespect and poor service of Transdev. And more importantly, there is a successful framework and movement for restoring paratransit as a public service, with the goal of full in-house paratransit service provided by DDOT.


Detroit News: Detroit City Council votes on controversial $49M paratransit contract

Detroit News: “Detroit’s transit for riders with disabilities under fire. Some say they’ve been left at wrong spots”

WDIV Channel 7: Department of Justice listens to & documents Detroiters’ paratransit terrors (wxyz.com)

MSN News: Duggan maintains paratransit services through emergency powers