February 3, 2015
Imagine having to walk 21 miles to and from work in the cold, every day, just to get to work. That’s the life of James Robertson, a Detroit man, who won the hearts of hundreds of people on the internet, raising tens of thousands of dollars online to get him a ride.
It all started this weekend, when the local newspaper wrote about the 56-year-old’s story. Robertson rides buses part of the way to and from his factory job in suburban Rochester Hills, but because they don’t cover the whole route, he ends up walking about 8 miles before his shift starts at 2 p.m. and 13 more when it’s over at 10. Rain or snow.
Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old student at Wayne State University, read the story and started a GoFundMe site with the goal of raising $5,000. As of today he has raised more than $210K for a car and insurance.
Robertson began making the daily trek to the factory where he molds parts after his car stopped working ten years ago and bus service was cut back. He’s had perfect attendance for more than 12 years.
Robertson said he was flattered by the attention and surprised that random strangers would donate online. When asked about a federal program, available through Detroit’s bus system that might pick him up at home and drop him off at his job, Robertson’s response reminded people of the city’s growing need for urban solutions.
“I’d rather they spent that money on a 24-hour bus system, not on some little bus for me. This city needs buses going 24/7. You can tell the City Council and mayor I said that.”
There have been various efforts by Detroit’s local entrepreneurial community to build the right urban infrastructure after its blight in 2009. Led by Detroit native and chairman of Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert, the effort has focused on creating a “Detroit 2.0.” For example, nonprofit organization Data Driven Detroit and local startup Loveland Technologies are leading the $1.5 million Motor City Mapping effort to survey the city’s entire 139 square miles—some 400,000 parcels of land—to identify blighted properties in need of demolition.
With so many innovative solutions aimed at building smarter cities, it will be a matter of time until proper public transportation is in place. But until technology saves the day, it’s good to know that you can count in the kindness of people. Or as Robertson explained:
“I gotta say, this is Detroit, this is how people are in Detroit. They say Los Angeles is the city of angels. That’s wrong. Detroit is the real city of angels.”
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