Todd Churchill didn’t have trouble paying the fare to ride Detroit’s QLine on Tuesday, the first day riders were charged, but he quickly became puzzled over how, or whether, he’d have to verify the ticket purchase.
“I wondered was I supposed to show somebody, or what. It was just weird,” said Churchill, 42, of Marysville, who was among a handful of evening riders to exit the streetcar at the Congress stop. “How do they even know if you have a ticket or not?”
Although it debuted this spring, Tuesday marked the first day riders were expected to pay the streetcar’s $1.50 three-hour fare. Despite a bit of confusion, the process appeared to roll out with only a few hiccups, said Dan Lijana, a spokesman for the M-1 Rail.
“We made a whole series of adjustments to operations and now there’s a little bit of an adjustment with ticketing,” said Lijana, adding officials expect a dip in the 5,500 a day average ridership of the QLine in August. “We’re confident this is going to shake out and be successful in the next next few weeks.”
To help, QLine ambassadors are stationed on the cars and at some of the most heavily traveled stations to help riders download the fare App, use ticket kiosks or pay for rides inside the cars.
The ambassadors are expected to be out over the next two weeks to help with the ticketing process and report back on any adjustments that may be needed, Lijana said.
The fare kicks in as the Little Caesars Arena opens for events and in advance of the first regular season game for the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The launch of the fares has been promoted for weeks in the QLine’s social media feed “to make sure no one is taken by surprise.”
Riders have the option to pay $1.50 for three hours, $3 for an all-day pass, $30 for a monthly pass, or $285 for an annual pass. Seniors and the disabled can purchase a three-hour fare for 75 cents.
Tickets can be bought on the QLine Detroit iTunes mobile app and at qlinedetroit.com. Ticket vending machines are at each of the 12 platform stops, and cash tickets can be purchased on the streetcars.
The QLine is operating on the honor system, just as other streetcars in the country do. Lijana said the expectation is that people will pay their fares.
To monitor compliance, transit police officers will board the cars at random. If a rider is caught without a ticket, they first will be asked to purchase one. If they decline, they can be issued a $150 ticket, may be asked to leave the train, or both, Lijana said.
“Removal from the train is the last resort, but along with that would be ticketing,” he said.
No fines were issued Tuesday. The day, he said, was about making sure riders understood how to buy tickets.
Northwest Detroit resident Emerald Shaw works in the First National Building and said she’s been riding the QLine one or two times a week to shop along Woodward.
She bought her first ticket Tuesday at the Campus Martius kiosk but she hasn’t decided whether it’s worth the cost.
“I don’t think it’s a long enough route to justify the fee, but it’s day one, so I’ll see how I feel about it and if it’s worth it going forward,” said Shaw, 28.
Shaw said she was nervous about using her credit card out in the open and believes it could be a deterrent for some, especially during evening hours or when people are riding alone.
The main issue reported Tuesday, Lijana said, was a brief malfunction with payment machines inside a couple of the streetcars.
Claude Bentley, 62, boarded the QLine at the Canfield stop early Tuesday. Bentley said he’s become a daily QLine rider.
“It’s a good system; I like it,” Bentley said.
After figuring out how to pay his reduced fare of 75 cents and grabbing his transfer, Bentley, who said he was headed to the Veterans Affairs Hospital, took one stop north, then got off.
A normal Tuesday morning run at the same time, when the train was free, might have attracted eight or nine riders, rather than one, its operator said.
The southbound trip did better with riders. But it showed the challenges QLine may face as it institutes fares.
Of the four riders who boarded at the Grand Boulevard stop, three didn’t pay — they didn’t know they had to — and no one asked if they had.
“(QLine) is charging today?” said Colin Dillon, 33, when asked how things went using the new payment system. “I have no problem paying for it, I just didn’t know we had to.”