DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Detroit buses are back on the road Tuesday after a “sickout” designed to highlight how bus drivers are harassed shutdown the city’s transit system.
About 150 drivers rallied Monday outside Detroit City Hall to protest what they see as a lack of protections for drivers, who have seen a recent series of violent on-the-job attacks.
“What do we need? Protection. When do we want it? Now,” the drivers chanted as they marched beneath the Spirit of Detroit statue next to the Coleman Young Municipal Center.
The city was forced to halt bus service after the drivers called in sick. Tonya Harris of Oak Park said the sickout hurt her in the pocketbook.
“I usually take the SMART Bus in the morning and when I work overtime I have to take a DDOT bus home. So yesterday I had to cancel my overtime because I wouldn’t have been able to get home,” Harris told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas. “It cost me money, yes it did.”
Still, Harris said she’s not mad at the bus drivers.
“Some people are angry because the buses are late or they’re crowded, but again we can’t take it out on the bus drivers. We know what the situation is, we knew what the situation was going to be when they cut back on the schedule so we have to make adjustments,” she said.
The rally focused on four attacks in the past week that sent drivers to hospitals. Two were stabbed, one came under attack from three passengers and one had urine thrown on her, according to Fred Westbrook, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents about 470 drivers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced last month that it was releasing $24 million for the repair and upgrade of Detroit buses, including the installation of security cameras. Police Chief James Craig said his department is also committed to protecting the bus drivers.
“We’re going to stop the madness. We’re not going to have what we’ve seen in some cities,” Craig said Monday while unveiling a new police transit unit.
Craig said the transit unit, which should be up and running within a few days, will include officers riding the buses in uniforms and in plainclothes.
“It will be a small unit initially and it will be tied into our concept process. As you know, our concept process is data driven so we will know where the activities are occurring,” he said. “I’ll let this be said now to the bad guys, we will run plainclothes details on that bus. So, if you want to clown, you want to engage in criminal behavior, there will be plainclothes police officers on that bus, especially if we know it’s a problem location.”
In addition to the transit unit, Craig said more than 1,000 cameras will be placed on the buses, which will be upgraded, and institute a passengers code of conduct. Westbrook said while he’s glad to hear about the new cameras, he’d like to see a long-term solution.
“You can put cameras on the buses all day, that’s just for litigation where you can prove who did what. But if the system is not fixed, people are still going to be mad. They’re still irate and we’re the only people they’re going to see,” he said.
Some DDOT bus riders, like Dale Perry, said long wait times and crowded buses are the main reasons for run-ins with drivers. He thinks money used to install cameras could be better spent getting more buses on the road.
“I just talked to the bus driver, I asked him, I said ‘How many buses do you think is out here?’ He said there’s about 250 buses. So, you take electronics and stick them in the buses out here, that’s a whole lot of money,” he said.
Other bus riders, like Harris, are just glad police are finally giving DDOT some attention.
“I do think that having a police presence on the buses along with the cameras with deter some of the activity that goes on the buses. A lot of people I know were irate about the wait times, but it’s not the driver’s fault,” she said.
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