Detroit — It’s been 10 years in the making and faced funding shortfalls in its early days, but Detroit’s highly anticipated $140 million, 3.3-mile streetcar project is getting ready to roll with paying passengers.
Before it makes its first public run down Woodward on May 12, M-1 Rail officials announced fares and debuted the QLine streetcars to local media on Tuesday.
Detroit’s latest experiment in transit will cost a rider $1.50 for a 3-hour window, $3 for a day, $30 for a month and $285 for a year-long pass, officials announced Tuesday.
For business owners and those who live, work or play along the route, the opening is a highly anticipated launch that will increase transportation options and could boost their livelihoods.
Who will benefit — and how much — is the multi-million-dollar question.
“My assumption is that the sporting areas, restaurants and bars probably will benefit the most,” said Missy Lewis, the owner of the Black Dress Co. on E. Canfield near Woodward, who has closely followed the line’s construction and testing. “But shopping is a bit more personal, and people probably would use parking lots to be closer. But we’ll see.”
The streetcars are smooth-running vehicles. The operators obey traffic signals, so the speed of the route is no faster than a car and dependent on traffic flow on Woodward. At the end of the 3.3-mile one-way trip down Woodward, there is no need to turn the streetcar around; the operator walks to the opposite end of the car, takes a seat at the controls, and the car moves again northbound.
It’s all M-1 Rail Chief Operating Officer Paul Childs hoped it would be.
“It’s like building a house,” said Childs, retired chief operating officer of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “As plans progress, some things change, but we’ve stayed pretty true to our vision.”
On a typical ride, the car will stop established stops from near Campus Martius downtown to the New Center area. While waiting for a streetcar, riders can watch screens to see when a streetcar will arrive and programming that highlights cultural venues.
According to Sommer Woods, vice president of external relations, marketing and communications, there are some special features planned for the May 12 public launch.
“There will be a marching band, and we’re working on getting some mascots,” she said. “And riders will be able to ride for free that weekend.”
‘I can’t wait’
The QLine’s road to restaurants and cultural venues was not easy.
The project faced a $12 million funding shortfall and Michigan’s Congressional members warned back in 2014 the project could be in jeopardy unless the U.S. Department of Transportation provided more money.
The federal government did eventually provide funding in the form of two transportation grants totaling $37.2 million, said Dan Lijana, M-1 Rail spokesman.
“The total project cost about $140 million, and was financed with a blend of philanthropic, private and corporate money, along with the federal government and the State of Michigan funding,” he said.
M-1 Rail, a nonprofit formed in 2007, was tasked to lead the design, construction and operation of the streetcar system, which circulates along Woodward between Congress and West Grand.
Its mission is to create a “catalyst for investment, economic development and urban renewal that positively impacts the entire region through the construction of a streetcar circulator system running along and connecting Woodward Avenue from the riverfront to the New Center and North End neighborhoods.”
Lijana said there are six streetcars and each can accommodate about 125-200 people. Each seats up to 34. The cars travel at posted speed limits on Woodward, but have top potential speeds of 55 mph.
Once onboard, retired WDIV-TV news anchor Carmen Harlan’s voice will greet riders, making announcements.
The wait for streetcars depends on traffic and how many are on the route, said Lijana.
Daisy Reaser is among those who work in the Midtown area and is looking forward to taking a streetcar.
She was enjoying the weather inside the open QLine Canfield Station, which features a heater in the ceiling, and a digital board showing the date, time and map of the route, right outside her job at Jewish Vocational Services on Woodward this week.
“I can’t wait to ride it and take it as far as it goes,” said Reaser, who works as a case manager. “I plan to take it with some coworkers and we will be taking an extended lunch. And I do plan to take the rides frequently.”
Cynthia Sinclair said when the People Mover began its route years ago, she hopped aboard just to experience it. She plans to do the same with the QLine.
“I’ve been here all my life, and I love the upgrade and what it’s doing for the city,” Sinclair said as she was crossing the street on Woodward. “I want to ride it with no place in particular in mind. Just to see what it’s like.”
No search for parking
Streetcars in Detroit have a long and storied history in the city dating back before the 20th century.
By 1935, Detroit's Department of Street Railways transported more than 1.2 million riders on its streetcars and buses across Metro Detroit. At peak periods of the day, as many as 1,000 streetcars were operating in the city, ferrying workers to jobs and back home for just pennies.
By 1937, Detroit wanted to increase the flexibility of transit services within the city and began substituting bus service for streetcars. As affordability and availability of autos grew, the interstate highways crept in and the cost of operating streetcars went up, streetcar service was phased out in 1956.
For decades following, Detroit has struggled with mass transit issues, facing highway congestion with the rise of automobiles while offering few options for people with without cars.
The QLine won’t be an answer to that, its leaders admit, but it is a start.
Although she’s not sure her business will benefit, Lewis said she is more excited than most about the return of streetcars in the Motor City.
Seated in her elegant boutique a block away from the QLine’s Canfield Station stop, she proudly showed off photos of the streetcars on her phone that she’s been taking and posting on social media since the first test drives began in December.
She even posts photos of some of her ensembles next to photos of the orangish-red and white QLine in a collage, illustrating how the colors coordinate.
“I live, work and play here,” said Lewis, who has been in business for eight years, and in her current spot, down the street from the Whitney and HopCat establishments, for the past two-and-a-half years. “When a friend first called me to tell me they were beginning the test runs, I ran out of the house and immediately began taking pictures.”
She said she also posts to her YouTube channel and gets views from around the world.
“I’ve been watching it grow throughout the entire process, and I think it’s something new for people to get excited about,” she said.
Others say they’re looking forward to riding from the Hudson Cafe to the Detroit Institute of Arts; how trips to the Tigers and Pistons games will be easier; and getting a bite to eat, or a cold brew, also will be less complicated — especially the hassle of parking.
That’s the feature most appealing to Wayne State University students Ireland Portalski and Kayla Marrocco, who were walking down Woodward with their backpacks this week.
“I’m really happy about it because now I won’t have to drive to get downtown because it really sucks to try to find parking,” said Marrocco, 18. “I’m looking forward to going down to the riverfront in the summer with friends without having to spend money on parking.”
Portalski, 21, said she’s looking forward to spending more time outside Midtown.
“It will be more convenient to get downtown and to be part of the whole city, to go down by the riverfront and to Greektown,” she said.
The QLine opens May 12.
The fare is $1.50 for three hours or $3 a day (yes, you can jump on and off during your time). Seniors 65 years and older, and those with disabilities, can ride for 75 cents.
The hours of operation are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to midnight Friday; 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.