QLine riders face long lines, crowded cars

Many people waited over 30 minutes to ride Detroit’s new transit system. M1-Rail reports ridership exceeded expectations.

Stephanie Steinberg, The Detroit News

Detroit — An unexpected problem this weekend with the QLine debut appeared to be with the enthusiasm of riders like John Collins.

Since the QLine opened Friday offering free service, ridership has “exceeded even the most optimistic projections,” spokesman Dan Lijana said.

Like many of the 80-plus people in line, the Detroiter planned to ride to the opposite end at Grand Boulevard just to check out the city’s new public transit system. His 32-minute wait Sunday at the Campus Martius station didn’t bother him, he said, and he would have waited even longer to ride the entire route.

“It’s exciting. I remember they used to have something like this years ago,” said Collins, 46, a chef who takes the bus to work in Detroit. “These are a lot more up to date.”

Once inside the car, Collins hung onto a ceiling pole as it jostled riders packed like sardines.

“It’s different,” he said. “It’s definitely not like the city bus.”

Since the QLine opened Friday morning offering free service, M-1 Rail spokesman Dan Lijana said ridership has “exceeded even the most optimistic projections.” Lijana said last week the QLine would be a success if it fulfilled 5,000 rides a day. He did not have a count of number of riders since the rail’s debut since rides were free.

People get on and off the QLine car at the Campus Martius stop in Detroit on Sunday. Many people have been taking advantage of the free rides to get acquainted with the system.

At the 20 stations from Campus Martius to New Center, riders reported wait times of 20 to 30-plus minutes. Representatives said the goal is for cars to arrive every 20-25 minutes. Other issues included station signs to alert riders that were off, two streetcars that required service, and a car on the tracks that had to be towed for the car to complete its route.

“We did experience waits longer than expected at times because so many people were riding the full 6.6-mile loop to experience the full route,” Lijana said.

Valerie and Marvin Finney were visiting from Indianapolis and wanted to take their to grandchildren, ages 3 and 7, and 11-year-old daughter on a ride as a sightseeing adventure down Woodward.

But when the streetcar arrived at the Grand Circus stop Sunday, the 66-foot long car was full.

“It’s too crowded. I can’t get on that,” said Marvin Finney, gaping at the packed passengers.

As the doors closed and the car took off, Valerie Finney decided they’d return when riders are charged.

“Maybe it will be better then,” she said.

Still in the sightseeing mood, they gathered the children and headed to the Grand Circus People Mover station across the street.

“It’s not so crowded,” Marvin Finney said.

Rides were free for the opening weekend, and M-1 Rail, the owner and operator of the six QLine cars, extended the free service until next Sunday, Lijana said. Normally, riders will be charged $1.50 for three hours or $3 for a day pass. Transfers from the Detroit Department of Transportation and SMART buses will be 25 cents.

He said there are three Detroit Tigers games at Comerica Park this week. “We anticipate high ridership,” he said. “We want to refine the rider experience with large crowds” before the system starts charging customers.

M-1 Rail ran five streetcars throughout most of the weekend. At times, six streetcars were in operation to meet demand.

“Nearly every car was filled to capacity throughout the weekend,” Lijana said.

Idrander Moore, 63, of Detroit volunteered to assist riders at the bustling Campus Martius station.

As a car arrived, she shouted to people packed on the sidewalk, questioning whether they could fit in.

“It’s always going to be full — you just have to push your way in!” she said, wearing a neon yellow QLine vest.

Moore said she hadn’t experienced any other issues during the weekend.

“A lot of people don’t want to get off,” she said. “They want to ride down to Grand Boulevard and back.”

People wait at the Campus Martius QLine stop in Detroit on Sunday.

For people trying to get somewhere, like Jim Hay, it was a bit of a struggle. The 56-year-old from Sterling parked his vehicle in Midtown and thought he’d catch the QLine at Canfield to have Mother’s Day brunch with his family downtown. The plan didn’t go so well.

“We tried to get on one, but it was full,” Hay said. “So we hopped on the old-fashioned way — we took the bus.”

Trying to get back to Midtown on Sunday afternoon, he shook his head at the electronic sign announcing the next car’s arrival at Grand Circus.

“It’s been five minutes for the last five minutes,” he said.

A DDOT bus pulled up a few minutes later, and his family ran off to catch it instead.

Volunteer Joshua Ward, 19, of Waterford Township said the station signs have been off because of the traffic delays and other issues.

Two streetcars spent about an hour each at the Penske Tech Center for service.

“The display that monitors contact with the overhead catenary system needed adjustment,” Lijana said.

Ward, an Oakland Community College student who volunteered at several stations throughout the weekend, said riders were patient and excited to hop on.

“It’s a turning point in Detroit's history,” he said. “And everyone is really enjoying it.”

Richard Engelmann, 32, went out with a friend in Midtown on Saturday night. After hitting the bars, they thought they’d take the QLine to get back downtown where they both live. Service stops at midnight Friday and Saturday, so they arrived to the Canfield Street station at 11:50 p.m.

“(The sign) said the next arrival was 10 minutes away, and it didn’t come,” Engelmann said. “We waited until we figured out it wasn’t coming.”

So they did what any stranded person would do.

“We Ubered back,” he said.

Lijana said the QLine is “planning a number of measures” to ensure riders know when the last car departs from each station.

“That is something we are prioritizing as we evaluate this weekend's operation,” he said.


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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg