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Even though it's now been decades, many longtime Detroiters still ask the question.... "Why was the city of Detroit's bus system changed from the former (more reliable) D.S.R. to the present day D-DOT?"

Most Detroiters probably won't argue the fact that public transportation in Detroit has basically been on a major decline now for decades. But many may be surprised to learn that the steady decline in reliable service actually began many years prior to the formation of DDOT. As a matter of fact, the former DSR operation was reorganized in order to prevent the inevitable collapse of what was once a proud, reliable, and respectable leader in the transit industry.

Of course, the need for a major name change for the bus system during the early seventies had become obvious. Since the "Department of Street Railways" could no longer be considered a street railway operation after discontinuing the last of its streetcar service on April 8, 1956, its name had long become obsolete. But aside from the fact that a more appropriate name was needed, other more important factors would play a major role in the department's restructuring.

THE FORMER DEPARTMENT OF STREET RAILWAYS:
When the DSR was first founded in 1922, it was formed as a city-owned transportation company, and was to be operated as a separate and financially self-supporting agency. This oddly structured agency was run much like a private corporation, and although it was governed by a General Manager appointed by the mayor, a three-member Street Railway Commission was the decission making body. The transit company not only had to pay property and school taxes to the City of Detroit, but also had to pay service charges to other city agencies for any services they rendered to the DSR.

But more importantly, the Detroit City Charter mandated that all of the agency's operating expenses could only be paid through fare-box revenues. Although the DSR was owned by the City of Detroit, not one-cent of city tax money could be spent on the agency. Consequently, during its first forty years of operation, the DSR operated solely out of the fare-box.

But after the ridership numbers began to decline during the late forties and early fifties, and as fare-box revenues dropped and operating expenses increased, this charter requirement proved to be a major burden for the department. By the mid-to-late sixties, major cuts in bus service were being proposed. By the arrival of the early seventies, the city's transit system was on the verge of facing possible bankruptcy.

Many issues over the years all too numerous to go into detail in this article helped to contribute to the ridership decline the transit operation faced. As these factors continued to make an impact, it was becoming evident by the sixties that the former transit system needed to be restructured, or the City of Detroit faced the possibility of not having a public transportation system to serve its populace. Obviously, the fare-box revenues alone could no longer provide the needed money for the DSR to operate.

THE URGENT NEED TO AMEND THE CITY CHARTER:
Some limited and temporary relief did come for the system on Tuesday, September 1, 1964, when city voters approved Proposition "G" an amendment to the Detroit City Charter which relieved the department from paying city and school taxes, along with service charges to other city departments. In addition, the amendment also permitted the DSR to now receive federal grants, and authorized the Detroit Common Council to appropriate general tax funds for the DSR but only for the purpose of providing the local fund money required to obtain grants from the federal government. Prior to these amendment changes, low revenues made it difficult for the DSR to even provide the matching one-third local funds then required under the provisions of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964.

Another boost for the ailing DSR would later come on Tuesday, November 4, 1969, after Detroit voters approved another amendment to the Charter Proposition "A" which granted the Common Council budgetary control over the transit agency, similar to what the council had over other city departments. The amendment now permitted the Council to use general city tax funds to provide any needed assistance to the DSR. It also removed the restrictions that all DSR operating expenses must be paid from fare-box revenues alone.

With the transit agency's budget now under the control of the Common Council, it was now felt by many led primarily by Councilman Mel Ravitz that the time had come for the DSR to be restructured, and to come under the full control of the City of Detroit. Meanwhile, with the much-amended "horse-and-buggy-era" 1918 City Charter already in the process of being completely rewritten for the first time in over fifty years as a result of a voter approved Charter Revision mandate a charter revision opportunity was now possible regarding the future of the DSR and could soon become a reality. If approved, a charter revision restructuring of the DSR could take effect as soon as July, 1974.

NEW TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT FORMED:
On Tuesday, November 6, 1973, the voters of Detroit adopted the newly revised 1974 Home Rule Charter (approved 186,283 to 140,697), which also included a provision establishing a newly-structured Transportation Department.

Under the 1974 Detroit City Code: Article 7, Chapter 14, Section 7-1401; the transportation department shall:

  1. Own, maintain, and operate a public transportation system above, on, or below the surface of the ground, or in any combination thereof, utilizing technology known or to be developed.
  2. Operate the system within the city and to a distance outside the city as permitted by law.
The establishing of this new "Transportation Department" consequently resulted in a name change for the city-owned transit system from the Department of Street Railways to a newly formed Department of Transportation.

On Monday, July 1, 1974, at 12:01AM, the Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) took over as the transit providing agency for the City of Detroit.

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Coach #1577 displays the second paint scheme design used on
DDOT coaches beginning with the GMC RTSs delivered in 1978.
The first new bus fleets to be delivered under DDOT sported the original DDOT livery of white with black trimmed windows
and green and yellow striping.  The first new buses delivered to DDOT were 148 GMC built T6H-5307As #1001-1148
(left)
delivered in June of 1975, followed by 51 AM General 10240A-6s #1201-1251
(right ) – delivered in December of 1975.
[Melvin Bernero photo collection, courtesy of Melvin Bernero]
Preserving the History of Public Transportation in and around the City of Detroit, ...from "Steel Wheels to Rubber Tires."
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© 2006  (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 12-22-07, [redesigned 06-20-12], 01-14-14, 02-09-14, 07-01-14])
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The 1974 charter revision also resulted in the consolidation of other municipal transportation-related functions, resulting in the former Streets and Traffic Division being merged into the Transportation Department and becoming the Planning and Engineering Division under the new Charter.

The 1974 charter, under Article 7, Chapter 14, Section 7-1402, also abolished the three-membered Board of Street Railway Commission, which had been the policy-making governing authority of the former DSR, while Article 5, Section 5-103 granted the sole authority to supervise, manage and control the department to an administrative head, or a "Director" of Transportation, appointed by the mayor. The three Street Railway Commissioners were replaced by a new Advisory Commission for Transportation, composed of at least five members, also appointed by the mayor, but who were limited to only making recommendations (under the guidelines of Article 7, Chapter 1, Section 7-103).

Since there didn't exist a dedicated local transit tax at that time earmarked to support public transportation in southeastern Michigan, this new arrangement would now allow for the city to help subsidize and govern the transit system until a regional transit tax, and a proposed take-over by the then recently formed Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA), could be approved.

Unfortunately, after years of city and suburban fighting over this issue, it has now been nearly forty years and no regional take-over of the system has ever resulted, and a dedicated transit tax to support the Detroit system never materialized. As a consequence, DDOT remains to this day just another revenue producing city department, and largely subsidized by the city's general fund, to the tune of $80 million annually in recent years.

For better or for worse, D-DOT has continued now for four decades providing transit services to Detroiters.

D-DOT OPERATIONS UPDATE!! ...On January 4, 2012, the senior management of the Detroit Department of Transportation was taken over by a consulting management firm known as "Envisurage" (later renamed TransPro) which was under an 11-month $2 million contract that wasn't renewed. In August of 2013, a new one-year $1.5 million management contract was awarded to Dallas-based MV Transportation by Detroit's Emergency Mamager Kevyn Orr. It appears that the ultimate plan of the City of Detroit is for the total privatization of the entire D-DOT operation.
Click here to return to "THE D-DOT YEARS" Main Page.
THE LAUNCHING OF THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
(The Reasons Behind the Name Change from D.S.R. to D-DOT)
Variations of the "official" D.O.T. logo have been in use by D-DOT since the transit agency was launched on July 1, 1974.
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The original 1974 DDOT logo
Redesigned logo launched in Sept., 2007