Operator Crisis/Driver Shortage:
Where is my bus and why does it always show up late?
This past year, in 2023, essential Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) riders that use the bus daily for their primary or only means of transportation have been rightfully frustrated and upset over the condition of DDOT bus service. Throughout the year, DDOT has been struggling to keep on-time service since the 2020-COVID pandemic. According to the City of Detroit – DDOT Performance Dashboard website, buses are only 63% on time.
The impacts on essential bus riders are numerous: jeopardized employment resulting in disciplinary action for being tardy, or missing work, paying more for rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, because their route is a no-show. Essential bus riders endured poor air quality during the summer 2023 wildfires and resulting smoke and smog, while waiting for no-show or late buses with unmeasurable impacts to individuals with chronic health conditions, coupled with the lack of shelters and seating. This has frustrated many riders, showing up to the monthly DDOT Community Input meetings just to hear the often repeated reason: “we don’t have enough drivers.”
On September 18th, 2023 – during an evening mayoral meeting in District 2, parents and bus riders addressed the mayor about their concerns about unreliable bus service, one parent spoke about their children arriving home late each day by the hour, as late as 7pm. The mayor and administration told residents that service will improve by January 2024. Meanwhile, riders have expressed concern for wait times impacting their ability to ride the bus during the winter months – which is difficult for most bus riders across the city who cannot wait outside for lengthy periods of time and lack of seating and shelters across many DDOT routes. Formerly reliable routes like Grand River, Dexter, and even Woodward are impacted with complaints about long-wait times especially during evening and weekend bus service. On the weekends, buses run only once per hour if they are showing up at all.
You may be wondering, why is this happening on my route? DDOT has struggled before the pandemic to hire additional drivers. Recently as December 2023, the department reports that they are still over 100 drivers short, with about 60% on time performance, meaning that buses will miss their scheduled times, either show up late, or not at all. And if drivers take time off, that means there are even less drivers available to service all routes across the city.
On January 4th, 2023, the Mayor along with the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local #26 representing drivers and mechanics have agreed to a raise in the wage and quarterly bonus for drivers after pressure from essential bus riders, parents, and concerned community members in various mayoral evening meetings, mandated by city charter, city council, and at monthly DDOT Community Input Meetings that take place every third (3rd) Thursday of the month, consistently expressing the need to increase wages for all DDOT employees, prioritizing an immediate raise for DDOT drivers in order to resolve the chronic driver shortage that has afflicted bus riders before the 2020 pandemic.
The new agreement raises starting pay from $16 per hour to $19 an hour topping out at $25 per hour. This is also with the increase of the bonus from $1000 per quarter with no more than 3 absences, to $1500 per quarter. With a bonus now at $6000 a year with a $3 per hour increase, this calculates to a starting wage of $22 per hour to $28 per hour, provided drivers do not have more than three (3) unexcused absences per quarter to qualify for the bonus.
We appreciate and thank essential bus riders, members of the Transit Justice Team, and aligned advocates and organizations remaining vocal, persistent, and relentless in pressuring the city to INVEST in our DRIVERS with a simple message: RAISE THE WAGE!
The Detroit People’s Platform – Transit Justice Team will monitor and ask for documentation to ensure this raise results in the retention of drivers, increased on-time performance above the reported 60-65% range, and riders reporting reliable buses arriving on schedule[i].
While this may not be enough to completely resolve the driver shortage in Detroit, it is a good step in the right direction, and it wouldn’t have been possible without essential bus riders using their voice!
 DDOT Performance Dashboard – City of Detroit, URL: https://detroitmi.gov/departments/detroit-department-transportation/ddot-performance-dashboard July 2023 Performance Data
[i] Mayor, DDOT & Bus Drivers union announce agreement to raise driver pay $3/hr, increase attendance bonus URL: https://detroitmi.gov/news/mayor-ddot-bus-drivers-union-announce-agreement-raise-driver-pay-3hr-increase-attendance-bonus?fbclid=IwAR2tHECpvTT9CdHdz1VGxF8fFWmzSrvEic-nrWnqTpHXeWJ5OBAjxZ2WZXY January 4th, 2024, City of Detroit press release