The numbers are in for Detroit’s QLine streetcar one year into its operations — and they’re not great. The streetcar operated by M-1 Rail expected ridership between 5,000 and 8,000 riders per day. But it’s been more like half of that.
The QLine has been marketed as a symbol of Detroit’s turnaround. But it has also become emblematic of other things, including the region’s failure to invest in real transit and the stark economic divisions that exist within our city and region.
What did we really expect the QLine to achieve on its own in just 12 months?
Other new streetcar systems all over the country have apparently had similar results. Do these numbers tell us anything about the virtues of streetcars in general? Can they serve as a guide for where we go from here in terms of transit or economic policy?
She says, at first, QLine ridership was up because the street cars were brand new and rides were free for the first six months thanks to a Kresge Foundation grant. However, overall ridership dropped after rides were no longer free and the weather changed.
While QLine officials say ridership improved in April and that some of the hang-ups from the first year have been fixed, people still aren’t necessarily relying on the year-old transit system.
“The bottom line…is this was not designed to be, you know, something that takes people to work every day. It’s in the gentrified area,” says Pratt Dawsey. “It’s not something people have to use.”
Laura Bliss, a staff writer for CityLab, also joins the program. Bliss covers transportation, infrastructure, and the environment and wrote an article in September that looks specifically at the QLine and how it compares to similar streetcars around the country, titled, “Enough with the streetcars already.”
Bliss talks about how other cities in the U.S. have tried to use streetcars as a way to “regenerate a particular neighborhood.” The issue is that “many of these streetcar projects, including Detroit’s, do not connect meaningfully, or even at all, to the larger transit networks,” Bliss says. “This really is kind of a novelty ride.”
Click on the audio player above for the full conversation.