Stateside Podcast: The Detroit Bus Company rebuilds after robbery
In an old envelope factory off Livernois in Detroit, a fleet of wildly-painted buses powers up each morning to give rides to schoolkids and others in need.
At least, that’s what the buses do most mornings.
Earlier this month, drivers with The Detroit Bus Company arrived in the morning to find someone had cut through their chain link fences, buzzed right past the barbed wire, and cut the catalytic converters out of most of the vehicles onsite.
The team spent the following weekend trying to mend holes in the fences, and cutting back shrubbery so that anyone else trying to sneak in wouldn’t have cover.
“They broke the fence in two places. They slit the fence open with a saw and just cut it wide open,” said Andy Didorosi, founder of The Detroit Bus Company.
In 2011, Didorosi started the company as an alternative to public transit. The buses are also available for private charters or tours. But just this month at least five catalytic converters in the buses were stolen.
“Guys scrap these things and they get 50 or 100 bucks. The problem is for us, they cost $900 or $1,000.”
A catalytic converter is a device in a vehicle designed to reduce the pollutants and toxic gas the emissions system produces. Thefts of these parts have skyrocketed in the past few years because of the precious metals they contain.
The abandoned factory Didorosi bought in the early days of the pandemic is in the city’s west side. It’s primarily an industrial neighborhood. A year ago a bunch of batteries were stolen, and before that thieves took couple of pickup trucks.
“So it's about every six months to a year we have another big thing happen again.”
Luckily The Detroit Bus Company has been able to fix up most of the buses and found ways to cover their existing runs. But Didorosi said it’s a hard time in the economy for everyone.
“When you come in and see everything stolen, you're upset for, like, an hour and then you just get back to work. I mean, it's the Detroiter work aesthetic. You just get back to work. It's easy to think this is a Detroit problem, but Detroit and other major cities have this issue. The property crimes are off the charts. There's a lot of desperate people. They don't have a lot of options. You know, breaking into a bus yard at two in the morning usually isn't people's first choice, but there's just not a lot of great jobs out there, especially here.”
The Bus Company is raising money to replace the stolen parts, with one caveat: “…If you're anywhere near struggling to make ends meet, PLEASE DO NOT DONATE TO THIS. We will be okay if we don't pull this fundraiser off. We're Detroiters, we get it done.”