What Happened When a Detroit Politician Rode the Bus to Work

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans at the end of a 2.5 hour bus commute. Photo: Warren Evans
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans at the end of a 2.5 hour bus commute. Photo: Warren Evans

Detroit transit is famous for all the wrong reasons. To get to the sprawled-out suburbs where the jobs are, people without access to a car have to make multiple transfers on routes operated by different agencies, often with long, long walks in between.

Despite recent campaigns to create a unified regional transit system, bus riders still face crushing obstacles to job access. A 2016 ballot measure to fund a cohesive bus network serving five counties failed by a razor thin margin of less than 1 percent. A similar referendum later this year could start to turn things around, but suburban officials are resisting plans to improve service and expand access to good transit.

To highlight the issue, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans (whose turf includes Detroit) recently rode the bus to a suburban job center 25 miles from the center city. Here’s a recap of his journey, which included two painfully slow bus rides and a hike through knee-deep grass:

Evans wrote on Facebook:

I took a bus trip from Detroit to a jobs center in Novi that requires two bus rides and a two-mile walk to my final destination. For me, this was an excercise but for too many of our fellow residents this is an everyday reality. The status quo isn’t working. We have to do better, for workers and to drive investment and grow our regional economy. We need a real regional transit solution. #ConnectSEMichigan

While Detroit media and business leaders have mostly come around to the idea of investing in better bus service, old guard suburban politicians have not.

Oakland County Executive Brooks Patterson, who built his political career out of white suburban racial animosity, has refused to put the transit measure back on the ballot in his county. He characterizes transit as a handout, while he openly cheers for billions in state and federal aid to gouge wider highways through Detroit’s inner suburbs.

  • LazyReader

    You’re asking for political integrity in Detroit?

    That city is a petri dish, an experiment run to test the validity of every major social political theory of governance and it’s citizens were the lab rats. Liberal programs created America’s urban underclass, and they perpetuate it by encouraging and sustaining a breathtaking progressive social innovation know as the contemporary urban plantation. The “Urban Plantation” is a modern re-iteration of the old rural agricultural plantation. The police are in an impossible situation; dysfunctional communities, purposely kept dysfunctional. Services of any kind have to be abysmal. But the urban plantation has to be kept the way it is. It’s 90% of the growth of the democratic party. It’s sad the police are being blamed for problems not even of their making. How else could the Clintons go from near bankruptcy to 300 Million in assets on a government salary. Detroit hasn’t had a republican mayor since 1962. We have more pressing concerns than why Detroit’s politicians don’t ride the bus.

    Should Detroit be bailed out? No. Like Greece, Detroit actually
    can’t be bailed out, because its economy is shrinking. A money-losing
    enterprise with declining revenues can’t support any debt at all.

    Detroit’s productive citizens have been running for the hills (in
    this case, Bloomfield Hills), and they have been taking Detroit’s tax
    base with them. If this exodus is not stopped, nothing else will make
    any difference.

    Detroit should do now what Greece should have done in 2009: suspend
    debt payments, and cut taxes and regulations to restore economic
    growth. In addition, Detroit must at the same time (somehow) cut its
    crime rate by about 80% and turn around its failed schools.

    Is it likely that all of these things will happen? No. The most
    likely outcome is that Detroit will continue to sink into the
    liberal/progressive dystopian ooze, while its remaining productive
    citizens take their human and financial capital and flee.

    There is a great “Demotivators” poster whose caption is, “Sometimes
    the only purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.” With
    Detroit serving as a shining example of the end result of
    liberal/progressive policies, we have definitely been warned.

  • You Know!

    First off anyone that votes to tax themselves is just plain stupid. Secondly the perpetual tax is just another money grab that won’t really fix anything other than lining the pockets of those that administer its funds. ( Much like the Detroit utility tax that was developed to keep police manpower at a certain threshold.When numbers dropped below that level the tax collection was supposed to cease. Politicians decided to allow continued collection of the tax. Now there is a proposed tax on sporting tickets(written so only Detroit fits its criteria) to do the same thing as the utility tax that’s still being collected) Vote NO!!

  • Hugh Shepard

    “First off anyone that votes to tax themselves is just plain stupid”

    No, not true. If the tax money is being used well, it means better government services such as transport, health care, education, etc.

    So no. It’s not stupid. People benefit from government services and therefore are willing in some cases to vote for their government to tax them so that they can receive these services.

  • S.P. Miller

    Instead of spouting some generic non-sense about how Detroit (and all cities) is dysfunction because of liberal politics, how about you actually read something of real substance. Hey, I actually got one of those (written by a conservative none-the-less!):

    https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/6/6/we-are-all-detroit

  • David Poseidon Dudich
  • swtmix

    This is most likely Randall o’Toole. With over 16,000 posts it must be nice to be paid to just sit there and troll the internet. If I saw that number on most sites I would assume you were working in St. Petersburg Russia.

  • ocschwar

    I live in suburban Boston. The same bus and train lines that take me to work also bring in the predominantly minority workers to my neighborhood every day to staff the cashiers, wait on tables, fry the donuts, et cetera. Works quite nicely.

    Or I could live in suburban Detroit, and be surrounded by neighbors who talk just like this jerk.

    I wonder what I should do…

  • ocschwar

    Mind you, this is the same state that now has added work requirements for Medicaid eligibility in Detroit and only in Detroit.

  • Stephen Simac

    I read his article, but didn’t find much information about why he thinks most cities will fall into Detroit’s collapse. I agree that many decayed and depopulated as suburbs drained them of wealthier residents and many older suburban “cities” are undergoing the same changes as exurban estates and revitalized cosmopolitan cities draw the same demographic out of their now dowdy attractions, But there are geographic, economic and historical differences that will challenge his assumption. I notice Lazyreader doesn’t cite any Republican controlled cities that have created a positive environment for poor minorities. Urban plantations are a little more complex than his reasoning, although I agree with his rail ranting..

  • Courtney

    I’d love for more transit officials to do this across the country. I’d love for those who plan bike lanes and biking routes to ride in them.
    Chicago’s transit isn’t nearly as bad as Detroit but trust me, there are plenty of frustrations. We need more bus-only lanes and we need more express buses.

  • Anonymous Bike Zealot

    You should stop virtue signalling. You just admitted that you live in a segregated neighborhood you sanctimonious hypocrite.

  • Anonymous Bike Zealot

    Russians? Again? How about the monsters under your bed?

  • ocschwar

    Yes. I do. In inherited that situation. But at least my elected leaders aren’t trying to cage the minority areas like in Detroit.

  • NYCBK123

    Powerful! Well produced and well said.

  • onlineNetizen

    why isn’t there transfer stations between bus systems? no BRT?

  • Jason

    Props to Warren Evans for doing this. Not the same as doing it every day, but as he explicitly calls out at the end of the video, doing it once is enough to know it’s bullshit–and all too often these systems are being run by people who’ve NEVER, not even once, subjected themselves to the service they’re running.

  • Guy Ross

    ”First off anyone that votes to tax themselves is just plain stupid.”

    How does a community bury a tube to carry their poop away from their water source so they don’t all die of cholera? Everyone throws clay and fires their own ceramic pipe and then dig up their front yard so it flows in the nearest river?

    I think you may wish to rethink your initial position.

  • Brandon

    sadly, only those who already are advocating for better transit would do this. This is nice but how will it help convince Brooks Patterson and his voters.

  • Jennifer Melfi

    It’s because every US city is executing the same basic playbook – just that Detroit performed it first, and harder than the others with automobile-centric development, incentives for building way too much infrastructure(and not budgeting to pay for maintenance) and a basic misunderstanding of what actually produces wealth.

  • Jennifer Melfi

    would it be less expensive overall to remove the perverse incentives that cause the job center to be in Novi rather than in Detroit – at or near the center city (midtown, new center, corktown?)

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