The Detroit Bus System 2013: Adventures become Nightmares


This morning I dropped a glove and the Dexter bus pulled right over it!  I asked the bus driver if he could pull the bus up so that I could retrieve the glove.  He did so and even waited for me.  Thanks!  When I tried to pay my fare, it took my two quarters but would not take my dollar.  After about ten tries, the automatic “dollar sucker” spat out a penny.  That did it.  I put my dollar in and found my seat.

I’ve been a regular rider on the Detroit bus system since the late 1960s.  I was in high school then.  It was so great being on my own and going around Detroit.

I still enjoy riding the bus sometimes.  The Dexter line has an especially vibrant and poetic view of the city streets, buildings, plants and people.  I’ve fantasized about taking routes I’ve never taken before, just for the city tour.  I wouldn’t do that now though.  I’ll wait until things stabilize or “get back to normal.”

These days, the adventure of the Detroit bus ride has leaned toward the nightmarish.  I’ve had a few frightening, strange, nerve-wracking rides.  These trips are not the norm.  Yet things seem worse now than ever before.  It seems that the media and the politicians have no or little idea of what is really going on.

When people are packed together like sardines, a bad collision could be even more catastrophic. Cars cut in front of buses, cutting it close.  I’ve seen this again and again.

There have been reports of passengers attacking drivers and each other.  I’ve been threatened verbally for having my shoes touch another person’s shoes and for having my shoulder bag lightly touch someone.  When you’re standing, packed in and the bus is making sudden stops, there’s only so much that you can do.

I see some drinking on the bus, some pot smoking.  Now there are news reports of someone smoking crack on a bus, in the daytime.  That’s way over the top.

The Woodward bus seems to be especially problematic.  I know that some of this is due to the suburban bus system SMART changing their policy.  They used to pick up Detroiters far more than they do now.  Thus the passengers were spread out some.  Without the SMART buses, all those passengers come back onto the Detroit DOT bus system.  Yet instead of adding more buses, they seem to be running even less.

I have to wait 30 to 60 minutes for a bus ride most of the time.

One Sunday last month, the Woodward bus was especially crowded.  There were drunken sports fans coming back from football and/or baseball games.  There were regular riders.  We were all packed quite tightly with 20 or 30 people standing in the aisles.  There was a guy with a huge plastic bag full of smelly cans and other returnables.  The driver had to try to get people to stand up, to give their seats to the elderly or people with babes in arms.

A woman had an enormous suitcase sitting on the floor in front of her.  Two or three people could have stood in that space.  It added to a claustrophobic sense.  There’s a tension in trying to keep your distance.  Even when you’re packed tightly into a moving vehicle, some people don’t want you to touch them or get too close.

When the lady with the suitcase got off, about eight to ten people had to exit the front door, wait until she left and then get back onto the bus again.  Halfway to the State Fairgrounds, I finally got a seat.  There were still plenty of people standing.

It was an especially intense bus ride.  It seemed very “third world” as if Detroit was Bombay or something.  It was just mind-boggling.  I’ve had rough and unusual experiences before but this was extreme.  Now and then, I have a difficult trip on other lines.  Yet  recent experiences convince me that this time it’s reached a new low.

Most of my fellow passengers seem fine.  I never have any problems with them aside from having to listen to their cellphone conversations.  The drivers seem fine too.  I think that some are even heroic in trying to make the best of a bad situation.  Their jobs get more and more difficult.  Then the city government and the emergency manager want them to take pay cuts!

We’ll get through this.  Hopefully it won’t take a series of true disasters to wake people up.

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3 Responses to “The Detroit Bus System 2013: Adventures become Nightmares”

  1. don handy ("mud") Says:

    “Riding city busses for a hobby is sad…”
    -Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian)

    As usual, Stuart was singing about himself in that line. In their DVD there’s scenes of him riding Glasgow bus lines, by himself, looking out the window. Even though Irvine Welsh has shown the world the seedy underbelly of modern-day Glasgow, it still ain’t anywhere near as down-at-the-heels as Detroit.

    I miss riding the bus. I got a lot of reading done on them It also helped me keep in touch with strangers, and thus humanity.

    Most people have forgotten that the downtown people mover was originally intended as a connection to outlying rail lines. It’s high time these lines were built. It’d get people gainfully employed, be good for the environment, and relieve stress on the busses. But, such would invariably involve federal funding. As the bankruptcy shows all too well, nobody wants to lend Detroit a helping hand. They either want to use us as a punching bag, or as a punch line.

  2. artremedy20 Says:

    There was an outside comment questioning my use of Bombay. I wasn’t sure what “third world” city to compare this to. Sometimes it’s like New Orleans after the Katrina disaster. Detroit’s seemed to be outside of “normal America” for years. This is more obvious for some Detroiters than for others. It wasn’t the safety that I was referencing so much as the crowds and the “orderly chaos.”

  3. Why I Don’t Drive a Car | Adventures and Resources Says:

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