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Detroit Man Who Commutes 21 Miles A Day On Foot Will Get A Hand

In many U.S. cities, a 21-mile round-trip commute can take a long time, but imagine if you had to make the journey on foot. The Detroit Free Press says that's exactly what James Robertson does every workday.

The newspaper says that when the 56-year-old's aging Honda Accord quit on him in 2005, he had to find another way to work. Detroit's repeated cuts in bus service meant Robertson now spends more time walking to and from Schain Mold & Engineering in Rochester Hills than he does during his eight-hour shift molding parts on the shop floor.

The front-page coverage of Robertson's plight has led to an outpouring of help and donations from people across the U.S. The paper says social media fundraisers have brought in more than $64,000 in donations as of noon today, and people have offered to buy or give him a car, or even provide professional help in managing the donations. There also have been offers to buy him a bicycle or a daily chauffeur service, or to simply give him a ride every day.

Robertson expressed surprise when a reporter from the Detroit Free Press told him about the help that's flooding in from complete strangers.

Even if he accepted a car, he would have to pay for the insurance, and some donors have offered to do that. The newspaper says a nationwide survey conducted last week found car insurance in Detroit to be the costliest in the nation, at an average of about $5,000 a year. Robertson makes $10.55 an hour.

In an editorial, the Detroit Free Press said the situation illustrates the need to improve the city's public transportation system, which it calls a "joke." The paper says the constant cutbacks means the bus system is underfunded and dysfunctional.

Last year, the paper said the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Detroit will get more than $32 million to buy up to 50 new buses. They are scheduled to be put into service sometime this year.

In the meantime, Robertson will continue to walk more than 20 miles round-trip to and from work. He told the Detroit Free Times that he likes walking and being outdoors, and he has a perfect attendance record.

He also told the paper that, rather than craft a solution specifically for him, he hopes the local bus agencies will work toward broader, 24/7 service.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.