Detroit Bus Riders Fight for Lower Fares for the Low-Income
by Joel Batterman
Folks who ride the bus in the Motor City tend to have a lot on their plates. First of all, bus service is pretty limited. It’s better than it was a few years ago, when Mayor Bing was slashing service to the bone. But on many routes, buses still only run once an hour.
Then there’s the problem of getting to the suburbs, where the majority of Detroiters work. This often requires a transfer between the DDOT and SMART bus systems at the Detroit city limit.
As a result, the majority of Detroiters who take public transit are people who don’t have other options: the poorest residents of America’s poorest major city.
And as of May 1, many Detroit riders will have to dig deeper for the same limited service. The DDOT bus system, a city department under Mayor Duggan, raised bus fares from $1.50 to $2.00.
DON’T CALL IT A FARE HIKE
Just don’t call it a “fare hike.” DDOT refuses to use the term, arguing that some riders will save money under the new system. Indeed, to DDOT’s credit, it’s eliminating the fee to transfer between buses, which is currently 25 cents for DDOT and 75 cents for DDOT-SMART transfers. It’s also extending the time to transfer to 4 hours. But riders who don’t have to transfer on a regular basis will still end up paying more for their commute.
For months, the Motor City Freedom Riders, an organization of Detroit bus riders and our allies, has been urging City Council to include a reduced-fare card for low-income riders as part of any fare increase. That’s a measure many other cities are taking, from New York to Seattle, and in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where TheRide offers a reduced fare to anyone with a Medicaid card, through its “Fare Deal” program. (It’s unclear if the Fare Deal is a subtle nod to President Harry Truman’s Fair Deal proposals, some of which passed — school lunches — and some of which didn’t — universal health care.)
Thanks to work by the Freedom Riders and other organizations, including Detroit People’s Platform, and the support of Councilperson Raquel Castañeda-Lopez, City Council has directed DDOT to study the possibility of a reduced fare for low-income riders. But there’s no word on when that study might be completed. In the meantime, the Freedom Riders are working to build a coalition of organizations to push for the reduced fare.
Want to get involved in this key economic justice fight? Check out the Motor City Freedom Riders on Facebook or e-mail Freedom Riders organizer (and DSA member) Mason Herson-Hord at email@example.com.