Detroit Bus Company: Disrupting Old Models in a Transit-Starved City

9/11/12Follow @XconomyDET

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public transportation issues. In short: The buses are always late or sometimes don’t run at all. And the suburbs have their own system entirely, which makes getting outside the city a hassle. Didorosi’s operation is almost the opposite of the Detroit People Mover, a $210 million system opened in in 1987 that circles the downtown area in an endless 3-mile loop and attracts only a tenth of its projected ridership.

Didorosi, who is in favor of regional transit authorities that combine private ingenuity and dollars with the public domain, points to the game Sim City as a good lesson for city planners everywhere. “If you cut out transportation funding, your city immediately turns to shit,” he says. “Transit is the secret linchpin—cities live and die by public transportation.”

Though Detroit’s city bus system is trying to modernize, and in fact just launched a new transit app designed by Code for America at the end of August, funding shortfalls have meant that progress is slow. As Didorosi puts it: “What good is an app telling you when the bus is coming if the bus is three hours late? Technology can only support a good bus system, not create it.”

The Detroit Bus Company app, launching any day now, will allow riders to summon a bus using their smart phones. Didorosi, who currently serves as the dispatcher, says he hopes the app puts him out of a job. The Detroit Bus Company is also working with another local startup, Flocktag, to create a frequent rider loyalty program that he hopes to have up and running at the end of the month.

New tech aside, what Didorosi enjoys most is exposing new riders to the city. He plans to start hosting all-inclusive dinners, where riders will enjoy food and drink while taking “guided expeditions” of Detroit. He wants his riders to use the Detroit Bus Company to get comfortable with downtown, which he calls “the DMZ” of Detroit, and eventually want to venture further and further outside the green zone. “I’m so excited to bring people downtown—it’s a great, non-committal way for people to see the city.”

Lanz0n, a Roseville, MI native, actually typifies the kind of rider Didorosi hopes to attract. “I’ve seen more of Detroit on this job than I have my whole 43 years of living here,” she explains. “It’s actually a beautiful place. It’s a whole new world that I never knew existed.”

The Detroit Bus Company isn’t Didorosi’s first entrepreneurial gig. As a teenager, he started a business buying distressed vehicles and fixing them in a shop at Detroit City Airport. He later went on to found the Paper Street incubator in Ferndale, which he has since sold. He also spent a year writing for … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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