Last week, Detroit’s QLine streetcar was heralded a failure — ridership is only at 2,490 each day, far below its promise of 5,000 to 8,000 daily users. But the QLine is only failing because the city set it up to fail. The QLine can still succeed if Mayor Mike Duggan indicates that he wants it to do well. Duggan must give the line’s existing riders — plus future riders — the support they need to have confidence in public transportation rather than in their private cars.
Before considering the problems, let’s consider the success: 2,490 people each day. That’s 2,490 people every day who otherwise would have added their private cars or their for-hire Ubers and Lyfts to clogged streets during the rush hour — or poorer people who wouldn’t have attempted to come to work at all, because the hassle and cost of trying to get to a low-wage job wouldn’t have been worth it. Even at just 2,490 riders each day, the streetcar up and down Woodward Avenue — through the heart of the densest area of Detroit — is moving customers who would have no other practical way to get around.
But why aren’t more Detroit residents and visitors taking the QLine? After all, Detroit’s bus system provides 100,000 rides a day — serving more than 1 out of 7 Detroit residents, many of whom don’t have a private car on which to rely. Observers can watch any standing-room-only bus go by and see that there’s plenty of demand for public transit. And the QLine serves the densest parts of the city, from the river to downtown to the museum district to nearby semi-suburban housing.
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