Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced Thursday that he has negotiated four separate six-month long contracts with different providers to keep paratransit services from being reduced by 70% starting Jan. 1. Approximately 130,000 public transit users with disabilities in Detroit would have been affected.
The four transit providers awarded emergency contracts are Moe Transportation, Big Star Transit, Checker Cab Company and Delray United Action Council.
Before heading into recess on Nov. 24, the City Council declined to approve a five-year $49 million contract with a company called Transdev that had been previously providing paratransit services though the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT). Disability advocates and paratransit users urged council not to sign another contract with Transdev because of poor service, including many instances of riders being left stranded.
Lisa Franklin, CEO of Warriors on Wheels of Metropolitan Detroit, told Outlier Media that her organization is glad demands were heard, and that her team will still be watching the new providers during the next six months.
“We are happy that the four City Council members voted (the Transdev contract) down, because if they hadn’t, we would have been stuck with Transdev,” Franklin said.
The anticipated lack of paratransit services caused the Federal Transportation Authority to send a letter to DDOT warning the city was at risk of violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and that they could lose funding.
Duggan says the city procurement ordinance allowed him to put the emergency contracts in place without City Council approval to ensure there is not a decline in service. He added that DDOT will be able to offer 1,000 daily rides with the new contracts, which will expire in June. The city will open a new bidding process in January to find a long-term paratransit provider.
In addition to the four emergency contracts approved by Duggan, City Council had already approved a $15.8 million contract with People’s Express to provide 30% of paratransit services through 2027.
“Every week, there will be a performance report on each of the five companies and on-time performance and any customer satisfaction issues,” Duggan said.
Megan Owens, director of the Transportation Riders United (TRU), said she’s glad the mayor heard riders’ complaints. She said she thinks the interim solution is a step in the right direction but that riders may still be skeptical.
“They’ve had a lot of bad service and broken promises over the past 20 years,” she said. “We’ll be watching their implementation closely,” Owens said.
The four contracts will cost the city $5.8 million, which is $1.1 million more than six months would have cost the city had the Transdev contract been approved.
“We knew it would be more expensive to do rapid, emergency contracts, but that was far less costly than the federal penalties DDOT was facing if we didn’t act,” said DDOT Director Mikel Oglesby.
Duggan addressed the complaints against Transdev’s services today, saying DDOT will handle complaints against all new providers in-house instead of allowing the company to “supervise themselves” as was the case with Transdev.
“I don’t have any excuse for the poor performance you’ve gotten in the past,” Duggan said. “We are completely changing the system. We’re taking responsibility at DDOT for the quality of paratransit rides in the future.”
DDOT recently hired a team to answer customer service calls, deal with scheduling and other paratransit services. Oglesby promised services will improve once DDOT is overseeing and managing the companies.
Prior to Thursday’s press conference, Council President Mary Sheffield said her office was exploring options to deal with the paratransit issue, including possibly calling a special session. It is now unclear whether the council will still meet during recess.