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Detroit's QLINE: ridership lower than expected, but on-time arrivals improving

Posted at 5:15 PM, May 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-11 17:23:44-04

The QLINE will celebrate it's one year anniversary on Saturday. So 7 Action News wanted to take a closer look at whether the streetcar system is as good for Detroit as its backers claim, or whether it’s really just another People Mover.


The M1-Rail streetcar system, known as the QLINE, has been through a lot ever since its maiden voyage with city and state leaders one year ago.


The 6.6 mile streetcar loop from downtown to the New Center area has its fans.


“It’s inexpensive and clean and enjoyable. I really, really enjoyed it,” said Lisa Nance, who tried the QLINE recently.  “It’s for anybody who wants to see Detroit being rebuilt, and it’s beautiful.”


The QLINE also plenty of critics.


“My friends say the QLINE is slow, so why ride it,” said Joy Charleston, who works downtown.


“It’s nice, it’s attractive, it adds great character to the city, but it’s not really useful to people who live and work here,” said Charles Marcuse, the owner of Emerson’s Haberdashery.  “If it was more efficient, if there was significant or cheap parking at one end or the other – those would be things that would improve the situation.”


M-1 Rail Communications Officer Dan Lijana has heard it all, but he points out that more than a million people have ridden the streetcars in the first year.


“1.4 million is competitive with every other system in the country for their first year,” Lijana told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.


According to a one-year report on the QLINE, for the first six months (May 2017- October 2017) the QLINE averaged 4,660 daily riders.  During that time, there was no charge to ride the streetcars.  From November 2017 through April of this year, it cost a $1.50 to ride and the QLINE averaged only 2700 riders a day.


Lijana says the weather is a major factor in those numbers.


“Even in April, since it has become tolerable outside, we have already seen that start to jump up,” said Lijana.

We took our hidden cameras onto the QLINE for a ride mid-week to get a sense of how many people are using the system.  Several of the streetcars were empty, but in fairness, both times we rode the streetcar, the weather was cold and rainy.


The QLINE team admits they’ve had serious delay issues with cars parking on tracks, heavy snow and traffic flow problems ever since Little Caesar's Arena opened.


“In some ways, we’ve been a little bit of a victim of our own success.  There’s so much construction on Woodward, so many projects happening on Woodward: residential, retail, restaurants -- that it’s a congested environment now.  And that wasn’t necessarily a real issue prior to the QLINE being conceived and under construction because a lot of people want to be on this route,” said Lijana.


Lijana also says they’ve been working with the city and MDOT to adjust the timing of traffic lights.

Their big focus now continues to be on-time arrivals, and an App to track that.


“We are going to start to employ some technology that overlays traffic data in the same way that the vehicle arrival systems do for passenger cars [such as Uber or Lyft], so that you can see what the level of traffic is and also get a closer view of how close the QLINE is to where you are on the route,” said Lijana.  “We feel like that’s going to give people a real opportunity to understand just how long it’s going to be – if it’s going to be 3 or 4 minutes or closer to 10.”


The expansion of the QLINE for mass transit is still on the table.  $60 million in federal grant matching funds are available that could be used to connect the QLINE to the rest of the region.


If you have a story for Heather Catallo, please email her at or call 248-827-4473.