Fast forward to summer 2017. You’re lost in a euphoric haze of smoke, booze, and amplified guitars at the Fillmore, headbanging through [insert your favorite rock band’s] encore. After an all-killer-no-filler set, the house lights flicker to life, and you reflexively slip your iPhone out of your cargo pocket. You tilt its cracked screen upward and note the time: 12:07 a.m. FUCK. You missed the last QLINE of the night again. You swipe the screen to the left and check your alternatives. Uber’s on a 4.6X surge. Lyft’s not much better at 3.3X. Suddenly, your New Center bachelor pad seems far, far away.
This is the first-world dilemma Detroit’s night owls will face when the QLINE is up and running next year. On Fridays and Saturdays, Woodward Avenue streetcar service is projected to run until midnight, an hour later than Monday through Thursday. Sunday service is projected to end at 8 p.m.
The announcement, which improves upon the previously announced shutdown time of 10 p.m., is still likely to leave residents of the 18th-largest American city feeling high and dry. "Nightlife doesn’t end at midnight, so why should public transportation?" the argument goes. Of the 20 largest metro areas in the United States, 15 currently have streetcar or light rail systems. All of those 15 systems have routes running later than midnight on weekends, though frequency of trips generally tapers off in the wee hours.
As the QLINE grows into its vision of being “one element of a future modern, world-class regional transit system where all forms of transportation, including rail, bus, vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian, are considered and utilized,” Metro Detroiters will have to exercise patience and seek alternatives. One such alternative is the Woodward Route 53 bus, which operates (and will continue to operate) 24 hours per day along the same stretch the QLINE will ultimately cover.
Though it’s too early to pass judgement, Motown’s new era of public transportation — following an epoch of notorious unreliability — will hinge not just on the QLINE, but on the synergies created between it and other forms of transportation, both extant (buses, cars, bikes) and imminent (automated vehicles).