Jan. 17--The city's new transportation czar told reporters and Detroit Department of Transportation employees Thursday that by this time next month, buses in the beleaguered system would run on schedule.
"We have a crisis here," said Dan Dirks, director of transportation services. "We've got to get the buses on the road. We've got to get the drivers to drive."
Dirks, 62, who served as general manager of SMART from 1998-2007 before retiring after 30 years with the suburban bus system, was lured back to the city by new Mayor Mike Duggan. He was introduced by Duggan on Thursday morning as "the guy who's finally going to get the buses to run on time." He will make $140,000 annually.
Dirks is taking on a system plagued by inefficient operations and an outdated fleet of coaches. Riders this week complained that buses were more than two hours late on Monday. City officials said about 45 buses were out of service as the week began. That number was down to 30 Thursday.
In addition to the buses, Dirks will be responsible for the People Mover system, as well as overseeing the city's interest in the M-1 Rail streetcar system.
In recent years, Dirks had relocated with his family to Louisville, Ky., where he ran a transportation consulting company. He got a call from Duggan in the fall after Duggan won the city's mayoral election, asking whether Dirks would be interested in running the city's bus system.
On a visit to Detroit late last year, Dirks said he hopped on a DDOT bus to get a sense of the issues. He'll continue hopping on buses, as well as meeting with union representatives for DDOT employees to address their concerns, as well.
"If DDOT's going to turn around, it's going to be with the employees' help," Duggan said. "Everybody is committed to work together to improve it."
Fred Westbrook, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, said his members are excited by the new energy and attention being given to transportation by the new mayor and his staff.
"(Duggan) has the initiative to make transportation a priority," Westbrook said. "That's the type of leadership we need. Together, we can get this system to where it should be."
DDOT has been managed by MV Transportation, a firm based in Dallas, since last August. Paul Toliver, who has run DDOT for MV Transportation since September, will report to Dirks for the duration of the contract, which ends in September.
"You're going to see some bold moves," Duggan said of the coming efforts to improve DDOT. "There's going to be a different level of attention (to transportation).
"It's going to be OK."
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