Free QLine rides to continue with 'no planned expiration'

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

QLine riders can continue to use the streetcar for free "at least" through the end of the year after a pilot program launched in September

The fare-free pilot was designed to encourage residents, visitors and downtown workers to return to public transit and patronize businesses along QLine's route, according to a Wednesday press release from M-1 Rail, which operates the service. 

"There is no planned expiration at this point," said Dan Lijana, a spokesman for the the nonprofit.

Initially planned until the end of 2021, then expanded through the winter, M-1 Rail announced that with renewed funding t it would continue offering free rides to the average of 7,350 passengers a week who have used it since its relaunch. 

The 6.6-mile streetcar route opened to the public in May 2017 and serves 12 locations on Woodward from downtown through Midtown, New Center and the North End.

Before pausing services in March 2020, it transported around 3.3 million riders according to M-1 Rail. 

Since reopening the week of Sept. 27, QLine hours have not yet returned to pre-pandemic service, currently operating until 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 p.m. on weekends. 

But ridership is on the rise, according to Lijana, who said that warmer weather and an uptick in special events brought the average daily ridership up to 1,735. 

"As activity continues to increase along the Corridor and virus containment continues, further expansion of hours is certainly our hope," said Lijana. 

Private contributions came from the Kresge Foundation, which gave $2 million to M-1 Rail in late 2021 "for general operating support," and the Penske Corp., which gave $1.9 million. Part of both grants is being used to subsidize the free rides, Lijana said. 

In addition to continued fare-free service, QLine will launch on Friday a rider-benefits program that will provide rewards at local retailers, restaurants and institutions along the Woodward Corridor, which will offer discounts and rewards for passengers. 

The organization is also working with the City of Detroit to revise its towing policy so that it can more quickly remove vehicles impeding the streetcar, the release said.