Paratransit debate fractures relationship between Detroit’s mayor and council

Duggan called the city council ‘dysfunctional’ after it rejected a contract for transportation services for people with disabilities

Dec 7, 2022 at 3:38 pm
click to enlarge Detroit’s paratransit services contract is set to expire after the city council rejected its renewal. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Detroit’s paratransit services contract is set to expire after the city council rejected its renewal.

By Detroit standards, Mayor Mike Duggan’s nine-year relationship with city council has been practical and affable.

The war of words between past mayors and council members were a thing of the past.

That all changed last month after the council rejected a nearly $50 million paratransit services contract that serves people with disabilities.

Asked about the contract on Tuesday, Duggan slammed the council.

“We’re dealing with a dysfunctional City Council for the first time in nine years, I’ve got to get adjusted to that,” Duggan told reporters at a news conference for an affordable housing development in Southwest Detroit. “I’ve been at DDOT every day, we’re going through the options, spending time with lawyers.”

Council President Mary Sheffield responded to Duggan in a statement Wednesday, calling it 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 added, “Unfortunately, intimidating that City Council is ‘dysfunctional’ or that the Administration has to clean up ‘Council’s mess’ is a false narrative, shameful and highly inappropriate rhetoric directed towards a duly elected body. I hoped we were past these attempts at an outdated type of bully politics.”

Paratransit advocates and people with disabilities called on the council to reject the contract with Transdev, a French company that they say provided subpar services and hired drivers accused of sexual misconduct.

On Nov. 22, the council narrowly approved the contract before reversing course and rejected it in the same meeting.

Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero changed her vote, saying she “went back and read communications from the disabled community and transit advocates.”

“I believe we were presented with a false choice: either to pass a contract for a company with a poor history of service delivery or vote for a 70% reduction in services,” Santiago-Romero said in a statement after the meeting. “It is the Administration’s job to do their due diligence to provide Council with an amended Transdev contract or an expedited process to seek other vendors. It is our job as Council to consider all options — beyond this one false choice — and be given the time and required detailed information to make the decision on behalf of the people this will most impact.”

Duggan’s office warned that if the contract was rejected, paratransit riders would lose most of their services. Finding another vendor, Duggan’s office said, would take months.

Beginning on Dec. 18, city officials announced they would only accept reservations in the new year if they’re for an urgent medical need.

The contract expires on Dec. 30.

The Federal Transit Administration admonished the city, saying it was violating federal law by failing to fully fund paratransit services.

Duggan responded by saying he would use his emergency powers to continue funding the contract.

The city council is currently on holiday break until the new year.

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