Detroit announces 6-month contracts with four companies to salvage paratransit services

Beginning next year, the city of Detroit will enter six-month contracts with four paratransit providers to fill a gap left by an unapproved deal that threatened federal funding and a majority of service for disabled riders.

At a rate of $67 an hour, Detroit will pay Mo Transportation, Big Star Transit, Checker Cab, and Delray to provide 70% of transportation - about 700 rides a day. 

The deals were struck after the Detroit City Council deadlocked on a $49 million contract with Transdev, which had bid to provide "periphery" services to the Detroit Department of Transportation. DDOT was expected to manage the customer service portion of the paratransit rides - a facet of the previous contract that had sparked criticism against Transdev.

"I don't have any excuse for the poor performance you've gotten in the past," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "We are completely changing the system so we're taking responsibility at DDOT for the quality of your paratransit rides in the future."

Set to take effect Dec. 30, the new contract between the four new providers as well as a fifth company called People's Express that had already been approved for a separate contract earlier this year will come with similar steps for passengers - even as the city will oversee many of the processes on the back end.

At that time, riders will still dial 313-208-7326 for a ride. Instead of a third party picking up, a DDOT staff member will answer the phone. 

Dir. Mikel Oglesby said putting DDOT in charge of the quality of service will lead to improved experiences for riders. 

The decision to bid out the paratransit contracts was made under authority from the city charter that enables the mayor to use emergency powers when service for residents is threatened. 

Without an agreement, Detroit faced a loss of federal funding as well as an inquiry from the Department of Justice, Duggan said. A letter sent from the Federal Transit Administration on Nov. 17 alerted the city council and mayor what could unfold without a contract.

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Despite the warning, a city council vote ending in a 4-4 tie meant Detroit would enter the new year without a contract for a majority of its expected service. The vote prompted a back-and-forth between the mayor and city council when Duggan called the governing body "dysfunctional" during a press conference Monday. 

Council President Mary Sheffield called the remark on Twitter "an outdated type of bully politics."

"It is truly a travesty to arrive at a point that a fellow elected official deems it necessary to attack members of Council for faithfully discharging their duties and representing their constituents," she wrote. 

Detroit is expected to spend an extra million dollars fulfilling the six-month contracts, compared to the previous contract from Transdev that wasn't approved.

To ensure the quality of service remains strong, Detroit will also be using report cards to grade the performance of the four companies. If any of them fail to fix issues that come through, Duggan said the city would shift duties to the other companies.