It’s biz column day and Detroit Week a perfect combination especially with this incredible business I’m about to highlight. To say that its enterprising, visionary and inspiring doesn’t even do it justice.
With a city that had a non existent transport system, financial crisis and huge unemployed Andy Didorosi a local entrepreneur and transport enthusiast took the Motor City’s transportation problems into his own hands. A little back history for a second there was a proposal that a light rail system would revive Detroit by connecting the blighted downtown with the outskirts. When I lived in Detroit I lived in the suburbs, beautiful ones at that, big houses lots of grounds, picket fences we lived in an affluent town called Birmingham which was arty, cool and very sweet. It felt a zillion miles away from down town Detroit with its empty buildings and deserted streets so when I heard about the plans to connect the suburbs with the city I was hugely excited.
Those plans stalled obviously as budget cuts hit but that didn’t stop Andy Didorosi. What he has done is nothing short of amazing.
In 2012, he launched The Detroit Bus Company with a fleet of 4 widely painted buses offering guided tours as well as giving children in poor neighbourhoods free rides to after school programmes. A social enterprise that provides free or low-cost rides to folks in the city of Detroit. He makes that happen by offering bus rentals and great tours. I whizzed some questions over and they make for fascinating reading!
What led you to launch The Detroit Bus Company?
The Detroit Bus Company exists to address transit gaps in the city of Detroit. Most people don’t think too hard about transportation because we have some really great systems, but when the system doesn’t work it can really knock people out. If you can’t get around, you can’t hold a job, get access to nutritious food, or do all the exploring that children’s minds require. We wanted to do something, so we got some old school buses and started asking how we could help.
I understand its a bus company with a difference (stopping at hip bars, tours of hidden Detroit) can you tell us more about the routes?
We don’t actually run any fixed routes but we love getting a group of people together and taking them to some of our favorite spots. We have tours that tell the history behind all of those who refused to submit to Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s, we can tell you all about all of the best legends of our haunted city, and sometimes we just take people out to all of the places that we really love.
We are always on the hunt for the very best that the city has to offer whether it be longstanding institutions or the restaurant that just opened. There’s always something new (or old) to explore in Detroit.
Whats been the hardest part in launching the business?
We’re in an odd space. We’re not a public agency so we don’t have any governmental funding, but it’s our mission to provide really affordable (or free!) services so we don’t leave anyone on the curb. Since there’s nobody out there like us, we’re drawing the map as we’re following it.
What’s been the most successful?
I’m not sure about success but the thing that we have done that has the most impact is our Youth Transit Alliance (www.youthtransit.org). There are really amazing after school programs going on in Detroit but they have a problem attracting students because kids aren’t able to get there after school or get home after the program. We offer free rides to those students so that they are able to attend. Last year, we provided over 5500 free rides. Students that are able to participate in these programs tend to graduate at much higher rates and learn really great skills.
Never mind what I said earlier, this is definitely our most successful endeavor.
This summer we are launching a totally revamped tour program. People who live here are becoming more interested in learning about the history of the city and we are starting to see a lot more tourists coming out to see us. We want to show them a great time.
What do you see happening to Detroit in the next 5 years?
Growing and growing pains.
Pretty awe inspiring hey! I take my hat off to Andy and his team!, I hope they have inspired you if you are thinking of starting a business or improving your existing one as much as they have inspired me.