Detroit People Mover resumes service with free rides for 90 days

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit People Mover resumed service Friday after a two-year shutdown and will feature free rides for 90 days.

Trains that sat idle during the pandemic are back on the track after being cleared to relaunch by Michigan Department of Transportation inspectors. 

April Johnson, 33, of Detroit and her husband Michael, 38, left, ride the People Mover elevated tram in downtown Detroit Friday during its soft reopening. People mover rides are free for the first 90 days after the People Mover was shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The People Mover closed on March 30, 2020, as part of shutdowns across the state because of the pandemic and orders by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Although sporting and other events have returned, the overall downtown ridership mix of workers, conventions and other large visitor events is returning more gradually, spokeswoman Ericka Alexander said.

Normally 75 cents per ride, the People Mover will be free through Aug. 18; however, the trains are returning with limited hours and some stations are temporarily closed.

The trains are only making stops at Michigan Avenue, Huntington Place, West Riverfront, Millender Center, Greektown and Grand Circus Park.

Photo of passengers entering the People Mover at the Michigan station for a ride to their destination in downtown Detroit.

Trains will temporarily bypass stations at Fort-Cass, Financial District, Renaissance Center, Bricktown, Broadway, Cadillac and Times Square. However, these stations will be brought back online in the coming weeks after further construction is completed, officials said.

New hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and closed on Sunday.

"The goal is to accommodate our downtown residents, commuters on hybrid work schedules and the activities which bring people to the district," Alexander said. "We will take a look at where we are through the end of the summer and keep the public informed."

The People Mover is following city, state and federal guidelines, which recommend masking in indoor public settings as there is an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure in all of Metro Detroit and many other Michigan counties.

Gary Bulluck, interim general manager of the Detroit Transportation Corp., told The Detroit News in January the 2.9-mile route was expected to reopen in late February after sprucing up of the system.

"It's a 30-year train system sitting dormant for two years, and we need to make sure that it's in the best condition," Bulluck said. "We've updated brakes and we've made sure our control systems are working in order."

The track was previously expected to reopen in the fall of 2021 but that plan was delayed after rain entered several stations through open-air platforms, sparking the need for additional inspections, the Detroit Transportation Corp. said in September.

Repairs were made to the escalators, which were affected by stormwater, Bulluck previously noted, adding that the rain affected the electrified 24-hour rail guideway.

The People Mover first launched in Detroit on July 31, 1987, with a fleet of 11 fully automated vehicles, which are deployed in two-car trains and transport riders through downtown Detroit and in the central business district. There are 13 stations, and traveling counter-clockwise, the full route takes approximately 15 minutes, officials said. 

People board the People Mover at the Grand Circus Park station in downtown Detroit.

In 2018, the sky train had nearly 2 million riders, which dropped to 1.6 million riders in 2019. January through March 2020, the People Mover service nearly 270,000 riders before closing, city transportation officials said. 

There was a mix of riders before the pandemic, Bulluck said: About 50% to 60% were office workers in the downtown area. Others included weekend social riders, residents and seniors who don't have vehicles but live nearby, and a small percentage are tourists from hotels and conventions.

Prior to the pandemic, the People Mover generated about $1 million to $1.5 million in revenue annually from fairs, passes, conventions and advertising space, Bulluck said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_