Bus Drivers Battling Bed Bugs
City bus drivers' union reports problem of infestation on city buses, while the Detroit Department of Transportation says the problem is not widespread.
The union representing Detroit's bus drivers has asked the City Council to put pressure on the transit agency to help stop the spread of bedbugs on buses.
About 50 Detroit Department of Transportation drivers have reported seeing the bugs on buses, and some have been bitten within the past year, said Henry Gaffney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26.
After receiving a letter from Gaffney in May, DDOT chief executive Ron Freeland said Thursday he asked a maintenance crew to investigate and sent a letter to the union later in the month saying any infested bus would be cleaned.
Freeland said the amount of bedbugs the crew has found so far in the cleaning process isn't unusual for a service with an average of 100,000 riders each day.
"I, personally, am not aware of any widespread problem," he said. "Where we do have problems, we are in fact dealing with it."
Any buses reported to have bedbugs will be cleaned and fumigated, Freeland said. If that doesn't kill them, the maintenance crew can put the vehicle in a paint booth and kill the bugs with heat.
That wasn't enough for Gaffney, though. He said DDOT should be taking preventive measures by treating all of the agency's terminals and coaches.
"If this continues to get bad, you can't force anybody to work in those types of conditions," he said. "It's not fair to the citizens either. Somebody's got to care somewhere in this city."
Bedbugs are flat, parasitic insects that feed on blood of people or animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are about a quarter-inch long and spread by latching on to people's clothes or luggage. Once in a home, the bugs hide in beds or other furniture, feed while people are sedentary and reproduce.
Their bites affect people similarly to that of a mosquito, said Erik Foster, medical entomologist for the state Department of Community Health.
"Bedbugs have been found in public transit, school buses, public buses, airplanes," Foster said.
It's unlikely that a bus would have a large infestation of bedbugs, however, because there isn't a great place for them to hide, Foster said.
For the past two months, Rainey Henley, a 17-year DDOT driver, has taken his clothes off immediately when he returns home from his shift. He then throws them in a clothes dryer with hopes the heat will kill any bed bugs.
Henley said he was bitten about two months ago and has seen at least three other bedbugs on different buses.
"It's terrifying, man," Henley said. "I bring 91-percent alcohol and spray my seat and around my driver area before I start."
Gaffney's letter — dated June 19 — was on the agenda Monday for the City Council's Public Health and Safety Committee, but Council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown, chairman of that committee, said Wednesday he hadn't heard anything about the issue.
"There are no bedbugs on DDOT buses," Brown said. "They can't live on a bus. People can bring them on, but they can't live on plastic chairs."
DDOT's customer service line hasn't received any calls within the past year from customers reporting bedbug sightings, Freeland said. He said he planned to have the operations' staff talk to drivers for more details, but he believes cleaning all buses and facilities is unnecessary.
"I think most transit agencies, not just DDOT, would tell you (they) tackle these problems as they occur," he said. "I think if we had a major problem we would know it."
Bedbugs started turning up in Michigan in 2006, and they began spreading rapidly at the start of 2008. The state Department of Community Health receives 15 to 20 calls a week reporting bedbugs, with most coming from southeast Michigan and many from Detroit, Foster said.
The department received funds to provide Detroiters with information about bedbugs, and will begin its outreach in the next couple of months, Foster said.
"When you have a high density of people and you have a high density of people living in multiunit housing, their ability to spread is great," he said, adding "the chance of them spreading is high unless … the infestations are being treated."
General Manager - Staff Entomologist