Oct. 21--Bus service in Detroit is at a halt today, as Detroit Department of Transportation drivers speak out again about violence on buses.
About 150 drivers began protesting at 10 a.m. today in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. By 11 a.m., more than 200 were circling in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue, and Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon had joined them.
"What do we need? Protection," they chanted. "When do we want it? Now."
As a result of the protest, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26's president and business agent, Fred Westbrook, said he's meeting at 2 p.m. with Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr's COO, former Detroit councilman Gary Brown.
Westbrook said bus service should return Tuesday.
"Apparently, I have to call a rally and get media attention so we can get the word out, that it's not our fault," he said. "The feds came in and brought money with them. But it hasn't help. It might be a long-term goal. But we need something done now as far as protection."
Jarrett Holt, 25, of Dearborn, was waiting at the State Fair Transit Center just after 9 a.m., waiting for a SMART bus -- a regional transit bus. Instead of the two DDOT buses he typically takes from his home in Dearborn to his job as a host at the Southfield Outback restaurant, he was in the process of hop-scotching across the city on SMART buses.
Still, he supported the drivers.
"Sometimes you have to do something drastic to get everyone's attention," Holt said just before boarding.
Napoleon said, if he's re-elected, he would reinstitute the practice from the 1980s and early 90s of having undercover police officers on the buses.
"This has gone on too long," said Napoleon, "When you got on the bus, you didn't know if a police officer was on there or not."
ATU 26 represents about 470 drivers, with about 300 driving 100,000 passengers daily. Westbrook said the base salary for a driver is $32,000, and he did not know the maximum salary at the department. He denied telling drivers to call in sick to attend the rally.
Westbrook said drivers continue to be attacked after a September rally in downtown Detroit in to protest the lack of police protection, crowded buses and disorganization of routes.
"Last weekend, we had a couple of drivers stabbed because of the bus being overcrowded and not being on time," Westbrook said this morning. "We had a female operator with urine thrown in her face. We have solutions: put police on the bus."
Edno D. Casey, 56, an 18-year bus operator, said he was working an overtime shift around 2:30 p.m. Sunday when a driver in another car shot at him on West Grand Boulevard. The driver, he said, had blocked the bus from proceeding to have a conversation with someone in another car. He honked to get the driver's attention, then maneuvered past when he saw no progress. When he came up on the driver, the man had what Casey described as a 9 mm, "cocked and loaded."
"I've had guns pulled on me before, but to be shot at? Really?" Casey said. "Is it that serious?"
Casey said more needs to be done to protect drivers from dangerous situations, and to improve relations between drivers and riders.
"I could've been dead today," he said.
Kelvin Hall, 50, a 12-year operator, recalled a situation where a rider approached him while he was driving the bus last December. The man had a hand in his pocket like he was holding a weapon. Hall said he fought the man on the bus to ensure his own safety.
"I had to protect myself," he said. "This happens all the time out there. We come to work every day. This is our livelihood."
Westbrook said drivers are just as frustrated as riders. He said the union hoped Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr would take steps to improve safety after the September rally, which featured a march from Campus Martius to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. Bus service was not affected.
Brown said today that the situation is "as much about a labor issue as it is a safety issue."