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Mayor's last-ditch effort to save Detroit would privatize 88,000 streetlights

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Bing did not give specifics about how to make any of his proposals a reality. Making them happen would involve more negotiations with the city council and unions, both of which have shared a contentious history with the mayor’s office. Unions say they’ve sacrificed enough and the city is not doing enough to cut back redundancy in its own ranks.

Perhaps the two most drastic steps in Bing’s plan, however, are part of a controversial plan to outsource management of the city bus operation and lighting system. Both services have struggled for decades and suffer from aging infrastructure and maintenance costs the city no can longer afford, Bing said.

“Like a car or a house, if you don’t pay to maintain it, eventually it breaks down and falls apart,” he said of the city’s beleaguered lighting system.

Almost 20 percent of Detroit’s 88,000 lights do not work; in some neighborhoods 50 percent of the lights are broken. Lighting costs the city nearly $11 million each year. About $300 million in new infrastructure and maintenance is needed to overhaul the lights.

Then there are the buses, which Bing said cost taxpayers almost $100 million each year. Outsourcing management of the city’s transportation department requires city council approval by Dec. 1.

Bing’s plan to outsource the services is the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass in football, says Mark Skidmore, another economist at Michigan State University. But privatization could potentially “get some efficiencies for the city and offload the expense.”

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