Robin Boyle assesses the QLINE's first year in Detroit
Ask Matt Cullen to assess the QLINE as it closes out its first year of operations, and he offers a letter grade - a strong "B." That factors in continuing stoppages, ridership dipping below projections once paid fares were instituted and an initial shortage of drivers. Cullen bases his grade on a blending of two phases - the effort to launch the 3.3-mile Detroit streetcar line, which he gives an "A," and the operational side, which he gives a "C+" or "B-."
Those letter grades might come as a surprise to critics who point to the system's ridership dropping below projections during its first year. From November to March, average daily ridership was 2,700 after hitting 4,660 during the initial months when the weather was warmer and rides were free. Prior to launch, M-1 Rail had projected average ridership at 3,000-5,000 per day. Robin Boyle, a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University, said ridership could be boosted by adding streetcars (currently the number stands at six with no plans for more). He based the idea on what he's seen elsewhere. "If you use streetcars in other cities, particularly in other cities that have had them a long time, you stick your head out into traffic and see if it's coming. If you see it, you wait. If not, you walk," Boyle said.
Boyle said for his personal needs, the QLINE is "phenomenal," because he's part of a small group of people whose transportation needs match the system's route. He can travel from his home in Birmingham, park in Midtown and use the streetcar to get downtown for meetings. Boyle also gets the senior citizen rate, paying only 75 cents for a three-hour pass (standard fare is $1.50). The system's also good for Midtown's development picture, adding a major attraction to the area, he said. But in looking at the system's impacts for the wider Detroit, Boyle said its benefits are less clear. "To what extent is this adding ... accessibility to people in Detroit?" Boyle said he does not believe that it has so far because the system wasn't designed for that purpose, at least not at this stage.