TODAY   |  November 13, 2013

Tracking tech helps tiny Detroit bus company thrive

Detroit has declared bankruptcy and times there are hard, but one man has found a way to make commuting a bit easier for the city’s residents. For TODAY’s American Story, Bob Dotson shows how innovative tracking technology helped “the little bus company that could.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> american story with bob dotson comes from detroit . the biggest city ever to go bankrupt but that doesn't mean a lack of good ideas and bob found one in the shadows.

>> reporter: these are dark times for detroit , literally. 40% of its street lights are broken. 78,000 buildings have been burned or abandoned. and nearly that many bus riders in this bankrupt city are left to wonder when or if they'll get to work. after $7 million was cut from the transit budget.

>> when's the bus coming.

>> well, two passed us by about five minutes ago.

>> reporter: she plays that guessing game every day.

>> it was all packed up.

>> reporter: and when they do stop.

>> try to get on.

>> reporter: by the time the fourth bus came, the nurse's aid was ready for a better idea. she had been waiting a total of 40 minutes.

>> i can't believe it.

>> reporter: andy offered a simple solution. he bought six old buses, hired a graffiti artist to spiff them up and installed electronic trackers.

>> it allows us to send bus where is they need to go instead of running up and down the street and hoping there's people there to ride it.

>> reporter: commuters tap their location into the company's web page or watch the bus approach.

>> the people in this company never worked in transit in their lives but they all have the sense of what is important in a city.

>> reporter: of course, the little business that could can't compete with detroit 's big transit system so andy is trying something the city needs even more. buses rarely roll through this southwest neighborhood because so many people have moved out.

>> any number between zero and infinity.

>> reporter: still there are 40 after school programs for children. they just can't get to them safely. 15% of the homes are rubble and ash.

>> everything gone just about.

>> reporter: except this family. they work long hours at six jobs.

>> are you ready?

>> reporter: so they can't always pick up the youngest when she comes home from the community center after school. before andy 's bus company gave her a lift, she sometimes had to walk.

>> it was really scary because there's was a lot of dangerous stuff inside of allies and stuff we had to go through.

>> reporter: the new tracking technology keeps bus drivers moving constantly picking up kids. two can do the work of 20. they carry 1100 children each month to a better place .

>> these kid as tend these programs, they're more likely to graduate and go on to college and bring that success back to their neighborhood.

>> reporter: something few thought possible at first.

>> there's been many times that this bus company has terrified me.

>> reporter: not every victory in life comes after a battle. andy assaults naysayers with soft smiles. he was told the insurance for these buses would cost more than all the after school programs combined. but party buses were less.

>> i said i want to start a party bus . and they said cool. no problem. so we had our service.

>> reporter: there are deep shadows in this city but she no longer journeys a troubled road dreading the darkness because a good idea lights her way. for today, bob dotson , nbc news with an american story in detroit .

>> a great idea. if you're wondering, kids ride free to those after school activities thanks to a grant they received.

>> that is a genius idea. long overdue in a city that needs that.

>> the fact that somebody says i don't care what you say. i'm going to do this.

>> who doesn't want a party bus .

>> we need to get us one.

>> i like the graffiti. that