City council votes down paratransit contract on Detroit’s west side

‘We want official, refresher training for drivers, dispatch, and customer service’

DETROITDetroit City Council voted on a new contract to expand and improve the city’s paratransit system on Tuesday. But that comes amid significant complaints from people who rely on the system to get around.

District 6 council member Gabriela Santiago-Romero voted yes, then asked to reconsider the vote and flipped, voting no, meaning services for the disabled are now cut and not expanded.

The feds say the city is close to violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If this passes today, my goal is to ensure that we hold you, director, accountable,” said council member James Tate.

Members of the Detroit City Council have put the Detroit Department of Transportation director in the hot seat, insisting that Detroit’s disabled community desperately needs a champion on the inside of the city regarding vital transportation needs.

It’s a big issue that is impacting a lot of people.

“I am talking to you and the administration. We have to do better,” said Fred Durhal. “We have to show better respect and do better each day.”

Each day, hundreds in the disabled community rely on rides to work, the doctor, and the store. Most people agree that the current provider, known as Transdev, has failed the most vulnerable with poor service.

“We want official training and refresher training for the drivers, dispatch, and customer service,” said a woman.

The city wants a new, five-year $49 million deal that extends the Transdev contract but with DDOT taking over key elements like dispatch, scheduling, customer service, and more training to vastly improve Detroit’s paratransit service.

Without the funding for a new deal, the city says it would have to eliminate 700 daily rides for people.

“We’d only be able to provide 300 rides, so we’d have to prioritize reservations on urgent medical needs,” said Mikel Oglesby. “Important medical appointments and the like.”

DDOT takes paratransit in house on Jan. 1. The council already approved funding for 30% of the paratransit needs.

The council essentially just turned down a contract for 70% of the service. That means starting Dec. 18, they cannot take ride reservations for after the first of the year unless it is an urgent medical need.

“As far as next steps with paratransit services, we now have to go about the business of cleaning up City Council’s mess. We believe we addressed the concerns the community expressed by adding accountability and bringing many of the administrative operations in-house. We also had the ability to cancel the contract at any time if there were performance issues. City Council has made its decision and this contract cannot be brought before them again. We now must start an entirely new procurement process and this past one took about six months.

It is disappointing and disingenuous for councilmembers to say we held this contract to the last minute to force a vote. Council had this contract before them for the past six weeks and could have voted it down a month ago. At least then we would have more had time to start a new procurement process.

Instead, just as City Councilmember are leaving for a six-week vacation, members of our disabled community will be dealing with the fear and anxiety of knowing that they might not be able to get where they need to go in the middle of winter.

As of January 1, 2023, as Director Oglesby said multiple times, we will have to reduce our paratransit trips by 70%. Beginning December 18th, we will reduce the number of bookings we make each day from 1,000 to just 300. We will be prioritizing medical runs first and if we have available runs beyond those, we will try to work them in, although we have a two-week lead time for booking paratransit rides.

It is our hope that we will be able to conduct a thorough procurement process as quickly as possible and come back with a contract that City Council will approve to minimize the inconvenience members of our disabled community will be experiencing for the foreseeable future.”

Chief of Staff Stephanie Washington

About the Authors:

Local 4 Defender Shawn Ley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been with Local 4 News for more than a decade.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.