These are dark times for Detroit. Literally. Forty percent of its streetlights are broken. Seventy-eight thousand buildings have been burned or abandoned, and nearly that many bus riders in this bankrupt city are left to wonder when — or if — they'll get to work.
Vera Flemings plays that guessing game every day. Two buses had just passed her by when I wandered up; she was waiting for a third. It pulled up 15 minutes later.
The doors opened. It was packed. No one got off. "Oh my God!" she cried. "I can't get on!"
By the time the fourth bus rolled to a stop, the nurse's aide had been waiting a total of 40 minutes. She was ready for a new idea. "I can't believe it," she sighed.
An empty seat.
Sixty years ago, Detroit was the envy of the world, one of its richest cities, built on automobiles and broad shoulders. Today it's bankrupt.
But bankruptcy doesn't mean a lack of good ideas. They are still there, in the shadows.
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One sprang from Andy Didorosi: He discovered a way to make bus rides a little less stressful. The 26-year-old didn't know much about mass transit when he started his own Detroit Bus Company in May 2012, but he knew what it should do. He bought six old buses, hired a graffiti artist to spiff them up, and installed electronic trackers.
Didorosi clicked on a computer map to show me how they work. "See that little dot moving down the road? That's the bus. You can see where it is in real time. Our electronic trackers let us send buses right where they are needed, instead of just running up and down the street and hoping that there are people there to ride [them]." Commuters will soon be able to tap their location into the company web page or watch their bus approach on a smartphone app.