Detroit – The city council on Tuesday approved a controversial five-year, $49 million paratransit deal for Transdev, a French company accused of providing subpar service to Detroit’s disabled drivers.
The nine-member council voted 5-3, with council members Latisha Johnson, Mary Waters and Angela Whitfield Calloway voting against the treaty. The other five members said they regretfully voted to keep the rides running in the new year. District 3 City Councilor Scott Benson was absent Tuesday.
It was a stressful vote for council members, who felt they faced a lose-lose dilemma: either pass the Transdev contract with no other alternative against the will of drivers, or reject it and sacrifice 70% of disabled transport services in the new year and possibly present the city with a legal challenge to restart the bidding process for contracts.
Detroit’s Executive Director of Transit Mikel Oglesby made the case to the council and the public that Transdev was the city’s sole contract offer for the bid. He warned that if the services are not approved Tuesday, they will be operating at 30% in the new year and DDOT will try to provide the best service possible.
The paratransit community has called for an end to Transdev, with key providers saying they have performed poorly in the city for the past six years. They have also asked for a reduced contract to hold the company accountable.
However, Oglesby has promised that in the new year the service “won’t be business as usual” as DDOT has taken much of its operations in-house. He also stated that shortening the contract is not possible “because it would destroy the integrity of the bidding process and expose the city to potential legal challenges from companies that may bid on a shorter contract.”
“We feel everyone’s passion when trying to move forward with any type of service. If the City Council does not approve this contract today, we would proceed with what we have,” Oglesby said. “Our service will be better one way or another because we are taking on several services.”
The city council delayed that vote for the last three weeks before approving it on Tuesday during its last session before being adjourned until Jan. 2. They’ve been reviewing this contract since October.
Earlier this month, the council unanimously approved a $16 million contract with Whitmore Lake-based People’s Express Inc., which will support Transdev and operate 30% of the rides. Both contracts run until December 31, 2027.
Typically, the city operates 1,000 paratransit rides each day for an estimated 130,000 disabled Detroit residents.
“I’m pleased that rider concerns are coming under the DDOT umbrella,” Pro Tem James Tate told Oglesby. “The lion’s share of what Transdev has done will now fall under DDOT with a referendum on your leadership. We weren’t talking about different services, we were talking about a time clock. When this is over I look forward to holding you accountable.”
Christopher Samp, director of the Office for Disability Affairs, said the plans are transparent between DDOT and its office. He said transit services are essential and must continue.
“In the future I will work with DDOT to ensure quality is improved and we will engage the disability community,” he said.
Debate about a “bad situation”
District 2 Councilwoman Angela Whitfield Calloway said she opposed the deal with Transdev and wished leaders had put an alternative on the table.
“The past problems with Transdev’s services are well documented and deserve voting against the treaty,” she said. “There is no reason to believe that Transdev will be held accountable. Although the new RFP (Request for Proposal) will take months, it is far better than suffering another five years. I am aware of the potential legal liability that may arise during the re-tendering process, however this is far less than another five years of sub-par service.”
City Council President Mary Sheffield said it was unfortunate that the council was in a “bad situation”. She also said the council should have had more time to consider responses to the RFPs submitted over the summer.
“I cannot stress enough that the advice is presented well in advance, especially with $49 million at stake. If we refuse, our offices will be flooded with drivers trying to get service,” she said.
Then Sheffield unconventionally stopped the vote to ask the chairmen of two disability groups, Lisa Franklin of Warrior on Wheels and Richard Clay of the Federation of the Blind, who were present, if they would agree to a 70% reduction in service. should the Council vote against the treaty.
“I know you have your back against the wall, ours too. There’s no way we would agree with that, but we shouldn’t let Transdev mistreat us for another five years,” Franklin said. “They promised us that Transdev would not be part of the equation and (DDOT) knew that (Transdev) would be in May when the RFP was released and only brought it to you in October.”
District 7 Councilman Fred Durhal II said he was torn because the restructured deal had a significant impact on the service in both cases.
“I’m not happy that I have to vote on it in the current form today. They leave us almost no choice,” he said. “To reiterate Tate, I will be monitoring performance very closely. Some of the horror stories I’ve heard from the Disability Task Force of vendors dropping someone off at the wrong place or the wrong place in the middle of the night at the casino… and if not for a Good Samaritan, we wouldn’t know. .. The training piece is the largest in these contracts. Who will train these drivers and how. I can’t in good conscience sacrifice 70% terms of service, terms of service.”
General Councilor Mary Waters simply said: “Transdev’s service was so terrible that they should not have been allowed to bid on this contract.
District 6 councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero said she was concerned but “I’m afraid if we don’t agree to this, too many will be off duty.”
Bring some services into the house
Transdev is paid per ride with an increase from $15.60 to $40 for the service. The drivers continue to pay a normal fair price. DDOT requires 80 to 100 drivers for paratransit.
Detroit officials said they would put more oversight on Transdev, which drivers have been lobbying for.
DDOT handles trip and reservation scheduling, accountability for customer service questions and complaints, the eligibility certification process, vendor oversight, vehicle maintenance and service delivery.
“We have already hired 22 of 32 people to do this work, including a senior manager with 30 years of paratransit experience, Michael Stanley. These are DDOT staff who will take care of this in our new structure,” said Oglesby. “We took the parts that Transdev didn’t do well and we will have better service in the future, there’s no doubt about that.”
Transdev will now play an operational role, while the city will assume the administrative role of ride reservation, scheduling, dispatch and transmission through its internal contract manager not only for People Express but also for the three subcontractors within its transit bundle.
The department said it intends to implement a scorecard that will measure accident frequency rates, track on-time pickups and returns, and examine the number of trips per hour reported in the sources. Key Performance Indicators data is collected daily by the DDOT, compiled and made available to service providers at weekly meetings and quarterly to the Local Advisory Council and City Council.
District 4 Councilwoman Latisha Johnson asked the Office of Auditor General to review the quality performance of the new system.
ADA paratransit services were prioritized when the City Council approved the fiscal year budget in April. Approximately $72.3 million from the city’s general fund will support improvements to the DDOT transit service and people mover. It included a $5.8 million increase to improve paratransit services and vehicle operations.
“What other choice do we have? It’s unfortunate,” said Santiago-Romero.