My Daily Commute Aboard the New QLine -- the Good and the Glitches





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I really want to love the QLine -- all 3.3 miles. After nearly a week of commuting daily to work, I’m liking it, but still in the courting stage, trying to figure out how committed I’ll be as a regular commuter.

I lived in D.C. 14 years and whenever anyone there asked how I liked living in the city,  my response was often “I’m from Detroit. We drive everywhere. I love the subway. I've never stopped appreciating it.”

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In Washington, during the week, I seldom used my car. I took the subway, and sometimes buses and cabs, depending on the time of day, or simply how I was feeling. The normal drive to the office, though it was only about 5 miles, would take 30 to 40 minutes by car during rush hour. So I seldom drove. Often times, I would walk a mile to the subway, which took about 15 minutes. Then the train would take another 10 minutes to get to my destination.

That said, the anticipation of regularly taking public transportation to my downtown Detroit office was exciting. I live in Midtown. Up until now, it has taken me about 5 to 7 minutes to drive downtown, and a few minutes more to get to the parking lot or find street parking. Both cost $6 to $8 a day.

Related post today: Stash Your Cash, QLine Riders: Free Streetcar Trips Roll Through June

I took the streetcar Monday through Thursday this week, waiting about 10 minutes on average each time. The rides took 7 to 25 minutes to go about 2.2 miles. 

I plan to buy the yearly pass even though at this point I’m not sure how frequently I’ll use it during the week.  When the system starts charging Julyt 1, there may not be as many passengers -- possibly making for a more pleasant ride.

A Transit Journal

Here’s my daily diary:

Day 1, Monday: I walk over to the Ferry Street stop, just north of the DIA. It's about 11 a.m. I usually work from home in the early morning hours.  A few people are waiting on the platform.  It's sunny, a beautiful day. A woman on the platform is excited about getting on board the first time. It takes about five minutes for the streetcar to arrive. We start heading south. It's standing room only. It seems like there should be more seats. A man standing near me says the ride is so much smoother than the bus. The bus, he says, is usually very bumpy.

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At first, I feel a little impatient. The train moves at a tortoise pace. Had I driven, I'd be at my desk by now.

A little toddler and father board the streetcar. The kid starts to scream rather loudly “No! No! No!”  You can feel the collective annoyance of the adults.  He continues screaming and crying. Adults, unlike kids, prefer to suffer in silence, at least in public. The kid will learn. Finally, after a couple stops the man and the kid get off. Ahh. Quiet.

I turn to a woman who was excited to board the train. She has a look of content. I say, “Kind of slow, aye?” She’s not biting. She's not letting me ruin her happy buzz. She assures me it’s all good “if you’re not in a hurry.” 

I see buses rush by as we creep along. I can’t help but think I should give the Woodward bus a try.

I finally get off at the Compuware stop. It takes about 25 minutes. I wonder if I’ll have the patience to ride daily on the QLINE.  Some days that I do, I plan to hop off a mile early and walk the rest of the way downtown to get a little exercise. I used to walk about a mile to the office when I lived a couple blocks from Comerica Park.

The return ride home is fairly uneventful. The electronic sign inside, which notifies you of the next stop, is stuck on “Mack Avenue” the entire ride. As President Trump would say, “So Sad.” The ride is under 20 minutes.

Day 2, Tuesday: I get to the Ferry Street station about 12:30 p.m. The monitor says 6 minutes until the next streetcar. Three women sit on the concrete bench talking about eating lunch downtown, perhaps at the Dime Store or Potbelly. They’re not sure.  I wonder how many folks can really afford to take the time to go from Midtown to downtown – or vice versa – for lunch and spend 50 minutes or so on the train round trip?  Instead of arriving in 6 minutes, the train shows up after 15 minutes.

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For the most part, people are pretty excited to be on the train. Maybe not as happy as people aboard a plane headed to Vegas, but there's almost that similar giddiness.  I notice two older gentlemen, probably in their mid to late 70s, carrying professional looking cameras with the big lenses. They remind me of old newspaper photographers. I saw them on the train the day before.

I was hoping I could grab a seat and use the Wifi and do a little work today. But once again the seats are filled. It would be nice to have more seats. It would also be nice to have more straps or poles to hold on to. One woman nearby can't find something to hold on to, so she grabs onto her friend’s arm.

On day two, I'm getting a little more used to the slow pace, but not totally.  The ride this time is under 20 minutes.

It’s now 5:30 p.m. I’m heading back home. The station at Compuware is too crowded, so I  walk several blocks to the station at Comerica Park. But when I get there, the station monitor says the next streetcar is due in 8 minutes. Considering my experience in the morning, I decide to walk further. I stop at the station directly across from Little Caesars Arena. I'm waiting. Suddenly, I spot a bus and think, what the heck, it can’t be any slower.

I hop on. It’s $1.50.  There’s less than a dozen folks on board. There’s plenty seats, plenty room. It’s about a 1.5 mile ride home. It takes about six minutes to get home, probably less than half the time it would take me to get home on the QLine.

I think: Why have I not been using the bus? I also think, what a poor job DDOT does marketing such a great asset. I also start to think we shouldn't have to wait another five or 10 years for the QLine to extend its tracks. A full-on bus system could fill the void if done right.

Stations are like the Taj Mahal compared to the Spartan-like bus stops. The QLINE stations have electronic monitors,  overhead shelters and a heater that’s activated with the touch of button. 

Day 3, Wednesday:  Today is one is one of the better rides. I board about 11:30 a.m. The monitor says the streetcar is coming in 7 minutes. It arrives in 10. I board. It’s not packed. I find a seat for the first time, next to a friend, Michael Evans, who lives further north, off of Woodward. We talk all the way down. By the time we got off at Campus Martius, the streetcar is packed. The ride takes about 20 minutes. Having a seat, rather than standing in a packed crowd, makes a big difference. It’s far more pleasant, far less stressful.

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I bump into a friend, Michael Evans.

The ride home is also pretty easy. I get a seat again. Yeah. The ride takes about 20 minutes. There is a group of people in their 20s conversing, having a good time. It still has a festive feel about. It’s not your typical commute home on the subways in cities where everyone is listening to music on their cell phones or reading books or magazines. Again, this time the electronic sign announcing the next stop is stuck the whole trip on one street: “Warren Avenue.”

Wednesday night: It’s about 6:15 p.m. I’m headed to the ball park to meet some folks. There’s about a dozen people waiting at the Ferry Street stop. Most appear to be headed to the ball park, clad in Tigers' gear.  It’s certainly convenient and cheaper than parking near Comerica Park. The monitor says 6 minutes until the next streetcar. Instead, it arrives 15 minutes later. On the ride down I try to connect to the Wifi on my phone. It doesn’t seem to work. The ride is fast. It takes about 15 minutes.

It’s about 10:30 p.m. The game is over. The Tigers win. The platform near the stadium is packed with dozens of folks. I’m a little concerned there won’t be enough room on the streetcar. It finally pulls up. It’s fairly full. Miraculously, everyone is able to get in, though it’s certainly packed. The train takes off. A man nearby remarks: “It’s a slow People Mover.”

One thing I notice is that some riders need to learn mass transit etiquette. Some people on the outside platform stand in the doorway, instead of to the side, to let people get off easily.  Also, I see a couple guys start to make their way to the exit door while streetcar is still moving, forcing some people to let go of the bars they’re holding on to to avoid stumbling or falling. 

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Wednesday night after the baseball game.

Day 4. Thursday: It’s about noon. The streetcar pulls up to the Ferry Street station. I’m running across Woodward to get on board. Thankfully, the driver is nice enough to wait about 15 seconds for me to get there. I find a seat right away. I’m happy. I figure, let’s try popping open the laptop and doing some work. The problem is, every time I get a Wifi connection, I lose it. After about four attempts, I give up. The ride is pleasant. I get off at the Campus Martius stop.

The ride home: It's about 5:40 p.m. The Campus Martius platform is crowded. The monitor says the streetcar is set to arrive in 12 minutes. It arrives in about 17 minutes. I think, during rush hour, trains should be coming at a quicker pace. It seems inefficient to have streetcars coming at rush hour so infrequently. Less cars mean more crowded streetcars and more frustrated commuters. Buses come by more frequently during rush hour.

The whole ride home, I stand, starring at the electronic sign indicating the next stop. It's stuck on “Congress Stree.t” 

I applaud the QLie, and of course, I get all the criticism. It certainly falls far short, at least for now, of what a real mass transit system should be. But it's a start, a training wheel of sorts for a local culture that has so long rejected mass transit.

What I do wonder is if they extend the tracks,  how long it will take, for instance to get from 8 Mile Road to downtown. Possibly forever, unless that is, there are far fewer stops along the way or they have express trains. 

The QLine has also opened my eyes to the greater potential of the bus system that needs to grow and improve, and do a far better job of marketing.







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