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Detroit — The free rides appear to be paying off for the QLine.

In its 77 days of service, Detroit’s new streetcar service has seen a growth in daily ridership, an increase in the number of operators and shorter wait times, according to a report released Thursday.

“Over the past month, we have improved QLine service, putting more streetcars on the road, reducing wait times between vehicles and integrated rider feedback into our operational enhancement plan,” said M-1 Rail CEO Matt Cullen in a statement. “Many more people have had the opportunity to experience the QLine for the first time and Detroiters are beginning to integrate the streetcar system into their daily travel.”

QLine ridership has increased from an average of 4,000 trips per day the week of June 12 to an average of 6,300 the week of July 17. The system expects to average 5,000 trips daily during its first full year of revenue operations. To better meet ridership demands, M-1 Rail has increased the number of streetcars operating during peak ridership hours. QLine now runs five streetcars Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

“We are well positioned to begin revenue operations in September,” said Cullen. “Our service continues to improve and our customers are becoming more familiar with engaging with this new mode of transit.”

The rides have been free since the May launch and will remain so through Labor Day thanks to support from the Kresge Foundation.

“The Kresge Foundation is pleased to see Detroiters’ enthusiastic response to the extended free ride promotion,” said Rip Rapson, Kresge’s president and CEO. “We believe this decision will support the QLine’s long-term success and position the streetcar as a successful demonstration project for transit in the region.”

But what happens when riders have to fork over $1.50 or more, depending on how long they plan to ride?

M-1 Rail spokesman Dan Lijana said the QLine expects to average about 5,000 daily riders between Sept. 5 and Sept. 5, 2018 — the first year of a pay period.

“But we’re not going to freak out if we get a day with only 3,500 riders,” he said. “And we’re not going to overreact if we get 7,500 riders. We won’t walk out and say, ‘We’re all good.’

Lijana said there are a number of factors besides having to pay for rides that affect ridership numbers.

“There are things like Tigers home games, Red Wings and Pistons games, and then there will be weather factors that will impact ridership,” he said.

Studies show across the country that ridership falls off when systems switch over to charging customers, Lijana, and M-1 officials expect to see the same with the QLine.

The QLine uses an automated passenger counter to calculate its ridership levels. The technology uses body heat on the streetcar among other things to determine riders on board.

Average wait times remain a work in progress.

“When we first began running the cars on June 12, the wait times between cars on Mondays through Saturdays was about 19 minutes,” Lijana said. “As of last week, the wait time was about 16 minutes and 49 seconds.”

He said the goal is to shave that time down to 15 minutes by Labor Day.

As far as the number of cars they’re running, most of the time, there are five.

“We’ve had six cars since the beginning, but from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, we’re running five cars,” Lijana said. “On Sundays, we run three cars, which is the day of our lowest ridership.”

M-1 Rail’s operating partner, Transdev, continues to add operational staff to deliver more service during peak hours.

When the QLine launched, Transdev began with 17 certified streetcar operators. But with rider demand, they now employ 21 certified operators. A total of 27 certified operators are expected to be in place by the start of revenue operations in September.

Among other improvements, M-1 Rail reports:

QLine has worked with MDOT and the city of Detroit to improve traffic signal timing at the intersections of Burroughs, Montcalm and Campus Martius. At Congress, an approaching QLine streetcar now triggers a signal change.

The service no longer stops at every station unless passengers are boarding or exiting the streetcar. It stops at stations with waiting passengers or when onboard passengers push the stop button aboard the streetcar.

The streetcars are now operating approximately 80 percent off-wire due to higher than expected battery performance, eliminating unnecessary charge time on the route.

Transit police continue to work to keep the route free from obstruction. Since the QLine launch, transit police have issued 30 tickets and towed seven cars.

M-1 Rail also is working with Nextbus — its streetcar arrival technology provider — to ensure accurate information is available to riders.

M-1 Rail COO Paul Childs said they’ve worked with their operational partner, Transdev, to implement policies that will ensure streetcars arrive at consistent 15-minute intervals during peak service.

“We’re pleased to see that wait times have decreased by 20% since the start of operations and 12% over the past month,” he said in a statement. “We expect to see continuous improvements between now and Labor Day.”

“Improving the arrival prediction system is one of our top priorities as we prepare for revenue service,” said Childs in a statement. “We appreciate the patience of our riders as we refine this technology, and we expect to see a significant improvement in the data over the next six weeks.”

M-1 Rail owns and operates the QLine, the 6.6-mile circulating streetcar route serving 12 locations on Woodward from downtown through Midtown, New Center and the north end.

An overcast sky and rain did not deter riders from using the QLine Friday afternoon.

The streetcar was packed with toddlers in strollers and visiting suburbanites taking their first rides, to senior citizens and lots of millennials and Wayne State University students.

Bianca Dean, 20, was among those waiting for the streetcar. The Wayne State University senior said she usually takes the streetcar about three or four times a week. She was headed downtown to the Shake Shack.

“I wish it could extend down toward Highland Park, at least,” she said. “There are even more things to see out that way.”

She said she plans to continue riding after Labor Day when it will cost $1.50 for three hours, $3 for an all-day pass, $30 for a monthly pass and $285 for an annual pass.

“If I could give it a letter grade, I would give it an A-minus,” she said.

Antonio Jones, 37 of Detroit, takes the streetcar about two to three times a week. He was headed to Campus Martius Friday.

“It is convenient and takes me where I want to go,” he said. “I don’t particularly like the wait time though, especially because it seems to be more crowded lately.

Jones said he plans to continue taking the QLine when he will have to pay.

“I think it has a good performance, and it’s convenient, so yes, I plan to continue taking it,” he said.

slewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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