50 Detroit bus drivers have reported seeing bed bugs; city officials claim problem is not widespread

by nobugsonme on July 10, 2012 · 5 comments

in bed bugs, detroit

According to the Detroit News, fifty Detroit Department of Transportation drivers have reported seeing bed bugs on buses in the last year, with some also reporting bed bug bites:

After receiving a letter from [Henry Gaffney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26] 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.”


Unless those fifty drivers were all on the same bus when they spotted bed bugs, it does sound like it might be kind of widespread. (Note: the WXYZ video above puts the number of complaining drivers at twelve, but other sources besides the Detroit News, such as Fox and UPI, cite the number as being around fifty.)

To be fair, you always have to wonder if people are identifying bed bugs correctly.  (For the uninitiated, our photos of bed bugs may help.)

At the same time, bed bugs hide well, and coming across them casually is not a commonplace occurrence.  And even a clean, modern bus will likely have places to hide, such as cracks and crevices.

Some city officials are denying bed bugs can live on buses as the Detroit News reports:

City 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.”

Granted this is not the most hospitable environment, and bed bugs probably are not harboring on the plastic chairs, but there will likely be some places they can hide.  There’s the famous case of Dr. Kinnear, who discovered bed bugs had infested a Dundee tram car in 1947.  Modern buses may be less hospitable, but not uninhabitable.  Interestingly, in a Bedbugger Forums post a few years ago, David Cain cited a pest professional active in a bed bug boom previous to the current one, who noted that the common site of a bed bug infestation in public transportation was “the back seat or seat over the engine.”

The Detroit News article notes that, according to Freeland, if bed bugs are reported on Detroit buses, those buses are “cleaned and fumigated” (by “fumigation,” I assume Freeland means the bus is given a spray and/or dust treatment), and if this does not kill the bed bugs, the buses can be put in a paint booth and heat treated.  (As WXYZ.com reports, pest experts question whether the paint booth would work — as we know, heat treatment for bed bugs is a bit trickier than most people think.)

Meanwhile, the Detroit News article also reports that Gaffney thinks the city should treat its entire fleet.  However, preventive treatment is not generally recommended.  This might be of value only if there are lots of buses that have bed bugs which are not being detected.

An inspection of the entire fleet with bed bug canine teams whose handlers visually verify dog alerts (per our FAQ on bed bug k9s) might be much more helpful in narrowing down affected buses and getting them treated, and would likely be much easier and more economical than treating the entire fleet.

Interestingly, despite the many reports from drivers, the DDOT claims that not one single customer has complained about bed bugs during the same year. 

So, Detroit readers, if you see something, say something!   Contact DDOT customer service to report bed bug sightings on buses– and be sure to note the bus number.

(If video above does not work, you can go to wxyz.com to view it.)

1 AshamedandScratching July 10, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Sadly, with the kind of money problems Detroit has, bedbugs on the bus service are the last things they will deal with. They’re struggling to keep schools open and the streetlights on.

2 nobugsonme July 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm


This is a very valid point.

Sadly, it will lead to much more money being spent by individuals, non-profits, businesses, and the city, if the buses are a conduit for people spreading bed bugs.

3 AshamedandScratching July 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

OTOH, it’s the Motor City. Most people use their own vehicles. Very few use SMART and DDOT for their commuting around. So…

4 AshamedandScratching July 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Google “Detroit EFM” if you want to make your head hurt.

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