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The QLINE moves into revenue operations, looks ahead to Detroit’s transit future

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Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

The QLINE opened to excitement and skepticism in May. How can a kind-of-slow streetcar that runs 3.3 miles down a major street impact the city as a whole? After a summer of free rides, trial and error, and exceeded expectations, the streetcar has made many adjustments and has recently started charging fares. We talked to Dan Lijana from the M-1 Rail about ridership, challenges and improvements, and how the QLINE fits in with the bigger transit picture in Detroit.

Who’s riding the QLINE

When the M-1 Rail was first announced, many thought it would mainly serve as a commuter line for people who lived and worked along the 3.3-mile corridor. That hasn’t necessarily been the case, says Lijana. Noting that summertime is different in terms of who might be riding, Lijana said they saw a significant amount of families, kids, and seniors riding the QLINE during the first few months. Their peak ridership hours were between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

They’d like to grow the amount of daily commuters using the line, he says, but that will come as the timing of the streetcar becomes more consistent, especially in the morning. Their goal is for trains to arrive every 15 minutes; currently, it’s there around peak operations, and about 17-20 at other times.

Lijana also says they’ll learn a lot more now that the Little Caesars Arena is open. How many riders use the QLINE for special events could dictate how long they need to extend hours. They’ve already extended hours for events like Jazz Fest.

Since starting fare service after Labor Day, Lijana says ridership is about 60% of what it was during the free period, which was expected. They’re expecting that to increase throughout the fall. They’ve also seen an increase in rides between 4-6 p.m.

Riders have paid $44,500 from September 5-17, an average of about $3,200 per day, slightly higher than their initial projections.

Feedback and future improvements

In terms of what customers need from the streetcar, a few interesting issues have come up. Lijana says many riders want help in understanding which assets or landmarks are near each stop. (We have a map for that!) The QLINE has also found that they’re working on having more accurate information at the stations in terms of arrival times, and that social media has helped to spread the word about service delays or extended hours.

On the street level, the QLINE is working with MDOT and the city to optimize more traffic signals. Lijana also says that there’s a desire for a dedicated transit lane—especially closer to downtown—and there are talks going on about that. They’d work with DDOT and SMART on this.

How the QLINE fits in with the bigger transit picture in Detroit

Lijana says that if the QLINE had opened earlier, perhaps the RTA vote would have had a different outcome. Nevertheless, it has jump started conversations among transportation entities that weren’t occurring before. Transportation is being looked at as systems he said, instead of individual silos.

That relationship, he says, is critical to the success of future transit.

They’re all in favor of a universal fare card, and there are at least transfer agreements between the QLINE, DDOT, and SMART. There are challenges, since everyone uses their own technology now.

Lijana also says that projections in ridership have met and exceeded expectations, and many people in the region are experiencing transit like this for the first time. The feedback, especially with riders interacting with a variety of different people on the streetcar, has been positive.

They’ve also seen more foot traffic and enthusiasm along the Woodward corridor since the QLINE opened. With bigger conversations between transit entities, and a real push for transit in the region, the momentum is there for a bigger, better plan.