Fri, Nov 17, 2023 10:24 PM
By Shirleen Guerra, The Center Square
The city of Detroit's bus agency's ridership recovery stalled in 2022 and was down 61% from pre-pandemic levels. Still, city officials want to expand services at a time when federal emergency money will be ending.
That's according to recent data from the Federal Transit Administration that shows Detroit's operating costs increased by $8.5 million in 2022 from the previous year while ridership was stagnant.
Like almost all transit agencies, the pandemic hit the Detroit Department of Transportation's bus service hard. In 2019, the bus ridership was 22.8 million before the pandemic. That dropped to 18.7 million in 2020 then plummeted to 8.8 million in 2021 and 2022.
The bus agency collected $19 million in fare revenues in 2019 and $7.5 million in 2022.
However transit was bailed out during the pandemic. In Detroit, that meant federal funding for operating expenses increased from a pre-pandemic $16.3 million in 2019 to $48 million in 2021 and $40.3 million in 2022.
That is according to recent data released by the Federal Transit Administration.
Transit across the U.S. has been hit with a significant decrease in ridership since the pandemic.
Still, the city's plan has from the Detroit Department of Transportation to increase service.
"The mayor has been very clear in his directive to DDOT to increase its service level incrementally over the next year." John Roach, director of media relations for the city of Detroit, said in an email to The Center Square. "DDOT also has significantly increased its pace of hiring additional drivers, which will support the increased service level."
Roach said the pandemic emergency funding was never meant to be used and never could be used for the sustained cost of adding service and only used for one-time expenses and to cover the cost of lost fares.
Like many cities, Detroit did not collect fares for some time during the pandemic, which Roach says was because of safety-related reasons, and lost general fund tax revenues supporting DDOT during COVID-19.
"We have been collecting fares again for some time, and the city's revenues have been exceeding projections," Roach said, stating that studies by the University of Michigan show that Detroit's economic recovery is outpacing the rest of the state.
"The city's plan is to use the same city, state, and federal funding sources as it did prior to the pandemic and to continue to fill vacant positions to get DDOT back to pre-pandemic service levels," Roach said.
Further expansions of service would be made through these same funding sources.
"The challenge has been filling vacant driver positions that are already funded. I don't think that's unique to Detroit, either. And I don't think the driver shortage is at all unique to Detroit."
Detroit Transportation Corp. has 462 buses, according to the city's budget documents.