Detroit People Mover

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Detroit People Mover
A Detroit People Mover train approaching Millender Center station
A Detroit People Mover train approaching Millender Center station
OwnerDetroit Transportation Corporation
LocaleDowntown Detroit
Transit typeAutomated people mover
Number of stations13
Daily ridership1,500 (weekdays, Q4 2023)[1]
Annual ridership656,500 (2023)[2]
Chief executiveRobert Cramer, General Manager
Headquarters500 Griswold Street, Suite 2900, Detroit
Began operationJuly 31, 1987
Operator(s)Detroit Transportation Corporation
Rolling stockUTDC ICTS Mark I
Number of vehicles11
System length2.94 mi (4.73 km)
No. of tracks1
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
ElectrificationThird rail, linear induction motor
Top speed56 mph (90 km/h)[3]
System map
Map Detroit People Mover highlighted in blue
Grand Circus Park
Cadillac Center
Times Square
Michigan Avenue
Renaissance Center
Millender Center
Huntington Place
Lodge Freeway
West Riverfront
Financial District

Handicapped/disabled access All stations are accessible

The Detroit People Mover (DPM) is a 2.94-mile (4.73 km) elevated automated people mover system in Detroit, Michigan, United States.[3] The system operates in a one-way loop on a single track encircling downtown Detroit, using Intermediate Capacity Transit System linear induction motor technology developed by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation. In 2023, the system had a ridership of 656,500, or about 1,500 per weekday as of the fourth quarter of 2023.

The People Mover is supplemented by the QLine streetcar, which connects the system with Midtown, New Center, and the Detroit Amtrak station. The system also connects to DDOT and SMART bus routes as part of a comprehensive network of transportation in metropolitan Detroit.[4]



In 1964 the creation of the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) allowed stronger investment into cities' declining transit systems. By the late 1960s there was gaining momentum for exploring new forms of transit to improve the quality of urban life, and UMTA's scope was expanded for development of such systems. In the early 1970s two automated guideway transit (AGT) demonstrators were sponsored; a "group rapid transit" concept, the Vought Airtrans, at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport; and a "personal rapid transit" concept, Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit, at the University of West Virginia. Additionally, four companies would receive grants to develop automated systems to be demonstrated at Transpo '72. While these AGT systems ended up being popular with zoos, airports, and abroad, they failed to attract popularity among municipalities and planning organizations.[5][6][7]


In the early 1970s pressure was mounting for a high-capacity rapid transit network for Detroit. In early 1972 Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA) and Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) commenced a study of such a network. During the study, it became apparent that automated people movers were useful in complimenting transit services, recommending systems for Downtown, Medical Center & Wayne State, Fairlane Town Center, Southfield, and Metro Airport. The study, released in 1974, would ultimately see realization as the QLine.[8]

In 1975, following the failure to produce any large-scale development from the AGT program and increased pressure to show results, UMTA created the Downtown People Mover Program (DPM) and sponsored a nationwide competition that offered federal funds to cover much of the cost of planning and construction of such a system. UMTA reviewed thirty-five full proposals. From these, they selected proposals from Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, and St. Paul. In addition, UMTA decided they would approve proposals from Baltimore, Detroit, and Miami to develop People Mover systems if they could do so with existing grant commitments. Of the seven cities with UMTA approval for their People Mover proposals, only Detroit and Miami persevered to build and operate systems.[5]

The Ford Motor Company was involved in one of the designs of the People Mover and had hired AlScott Service Company to design and build a room size working model of the system. This model was used for Ford's proposals in their attempt to build the system.[citation needed] Ford previously developed the ACT, a rubber-tired monorail, which was exhibited at Transpo '72; a production version of the system ran at Fairlane Town Center in nearby Dearborn from 1976 to 1988.[9][10]

The People Mover was intended to be the downtown distributor for a proposed city and metro-wide light rail transit system for Detroit in the early 1980s; however, funding was scaled back.[11] President Gerald Ford had promised $600 million in federal funds. Plans included a subway line along Woodward Avenue that would turn into a street level train at McNichols and eventually go all the way to Pontiac, with additional rail lines running along Gratiot and a commuter line between Detroit and Port Huron. Inability of local leaders to come to an agreement led to the $600 million commitment being withdrawn by the Reagan administration, though plans for the People Mover still moved forward.[12] At the time of planning, the system was projected to have a ridership of 67,700 daily.[13]

During construction, the system was initially owned by the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA).[14] It was acquired by the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC) on October 4, 1985. DTC was incorporated in 1985 as a Michigan Public Body Corporate for the purpose of acquiring, owning, constructing, furnishing, equipping, completing, operating, improving, enlarging, and/or disposing of the Central Automated Transit Systems (CATS). DTC was created by the City of Detroit, Michigan pursuant to Act 7 of Public Acts of 1967 and is a component unit of the City of Detroit and accounts its activity as per proprietary funds.[15][16]


Detroit People Mover cars in original livery, 2003

The Downtown People Mover opened on July 31, 1987.[17] A ceremony was held the Financial District station, with appearances by Mayor Coleman Young and People Mover supporter Max Fisher. After opening speeches and awards, Young and Fisher cut a five-foot-long cake shaped like a People Mover car, and boarded the inaugural run. The train broke through a green ribbon accompanied by the simultaneous release of 10,000 balloons, also shaped like a People Mover car. A block party was hosted below on Larned Street, and the service was open to the public by 1:30 pm.[18] That weekend trains were usually packed, with passengers waiting around 20 minutes to board at some stations. Transit officials controlled crowds, encouraging only taking one round-trip to let others ride. The system carried an estimated 2,000 passengers per hour on Friday and Saturday. Rides were free for the first week, with a $0.50 fare going into effect on August 8.[19][20][21]

In the first year, an average of 11,000 riders used the People Mover each day; the one-day record was 54,648.[22] Originally, the People Mover System was operated and maintained by UTDC on a month-to-month basis; DTC took over operations and maintenance on November 18, 1988.[citation needed]

Service disruptions from construction[edit]

In October 1998, the implosion of the J. L. Hudson Department Store damaged part of the nearby track and forced the system to shut down. The system ran limited service until the track was completely repaired in late 1999.[23]

In 2000, the David Whitney Building closed,[24] cutting off access to the Grand Circus Park station. The station later reopened, though it lacked elevator access until the station was renovated with the building's reopening in 2015.

During construction of Compuware World Headquarters, the Cadillac Center station was temporarily closed as part of the parking structure was built around it. The station remained largely untouched and unmodified, although the entrance was slightly expanded, and a walkway to the garage was added.

In 2002, the original Renaissance Center station was closed and demolished. This was part of a multi-year renovation of the Renaissance Center, in which concrete berms in front of the complex were removed to make it more inviting to the rest of downtown. The system ran limited service due to the gap in the track during construction, leading to a drop in ridership, before the new station and track opened on September 3, 2004.[25][26][27] The original station's tile artwork was destroyed in the demolition, though its creator, George Woodman, designed a replacement work for the new station.[28]

Grand Circus Park station

The Grand Circus Park station closed for renovations on August 16, 2014, as part of renovation work in the David Whitney Building.[29] A new station lobby was added with a direct entrance to the building, and an elevator was added to provide step-free access. Trains continued to operate in a one-way loop, bypassing Grand Circus Park, for most of the station's closure, though the line was briefly split into two segments (with transfers at Millender Center) while part of the track was closed. The Grand Circus Park station officially reopened on June 13, 2015.[30] A connecting QLine station was added shortly thereafter, opening with the system in May 2017.

Changes in direction[edit]

Sign informing riders of the switch to clockwise service in 2008

The system originally ran counter-clockwise. It changed directions to run clockwise in August 2008, following a short closure to replace sections of the track. This change in direction was intended to reduce the time needed to connect between more popular destinations. The switch to clockwise also reduced the time required to complete the loop, as the route, run clockwise, has one short, relatively steep uphill climb, and then coasts downhill for most of the route, allowing trains to use gravity to accelerate.[31]

In late December 2019, the People Mover tested counter-clockwise operation. The system began running counter-clockwise on weekends in February 2020, and then switched back to counter-clockwise full-time on March 1.[32]

COVID-19 shutdown and reopening[edit]

The People Mover shut down on March 30, 2020, due to reduced ridership amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a planned 2021 reopening was postponed,[33] the system resumed limited service on May 20, 2022, running six days a week, stopping at six of the 13 stations (Michigan Avenue, Huntington Place, West Riverfront, Millender Center, Greektown, Grand Circus Park). Broadway and Financial District reopened thirteen days later on June 2,[34] followed by Renaissance Center and Fort/Cass on September 14,[35] Bricktown on November 21,[36] Cadillac Center on May 23, 2023, and Times Square on June 26, 2023.[36]

To attract riders, fares were initially waived from reopening day through August,[37] and later extended through October 2022.[38]

System upgrades and free service[edit]

In October 2023, DTC announced that its administrative headquarters would move from the Buhl Building to the nearby Guardian Building.[39]

In December 2023, DTC's board of directors approved a one-year pilot program to waive fares on the People Mover, supported by a large donation fron a corporate sponsor. The program commenced on January 2, 2024, and is scheduled to continue for the entire year. Priority Waste, a waste management company based in nearby Clinton Township, was announced as the presenting sponsor in March 2024.[40] The Board will evaluate the program in July 2024, and determine whether it will continue in 2025.[41]

Also in December 2023, DTC announced plans to acquire railcars and other surplus equipment from the Toronto Transit Commission, following the decommissioning of the Scarborough RT, a similar system, the prior July.[42][43]


People Mover token

The People Mover is currently free to ride, with fares waived for the entirety of 2024 as part of a sponsored pilot program.[41]

When fares are charged, the regular fare is $0.75 per trip, paid at turnstiles with quarters, or with tokens dispensed by machines in the stations.[44] Children aged 5 and under ride for free with a paying adult.[45] Monthly and annual passes are available for $10 and $100 respectively; they can be purchased from the People Mover's website or the agency's administrative offices. Discounted passes are available for seniors.

The fare was originally $0.50, until it was raised to the current rate in November 2011.[46]

Cost-effectiveness and use[edit]

In 2006, it was reported that the People Mover costs $8.3 million annually in city and state subsidies to run,[47] and the system has drawn criticism for its cost-effectiveness.[48] In every year between 1997 and 2006, the cost per passenger mile exceeded $3, and was $4.28 in 2009,[49] compared with Detroit bus routes that operate at $0.82[49] (for comparison, the New York City Subway operates at $0.30 per passenger mile). Edward Glaeser, in his 2011 book, Triumph of the City, referring to high cost of maintenance, calls the Mover "perhaps the most absurd public transit project in the country".[50]

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported that according to a 2004 survey, fewer than 30% of the riders were Detroit residents and that Saturday ridership (likely out-of-towners) dwarfed that of weekday usage.[47][48]

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the People Mover generated about $1 million to $1.5 million in revenue annually from fares, conventions, and advertising space. There was a mix of riders in 2019: about 50% to 60% were office workers in the downtown area, while others included weekend social riders, area residents, tourists, and conventiongoers.[37]

Expansion proposals[edit]

There have been proposals to extend the People Mover northward to the New Center and neighborhoods not within walking distance of the city's downtown. A proposal was put forward by Marsden Burger, former manager of the People Mover, to double the length of the route by extending the People Mover along Woodward Avenue to West Grand Boulevard and into the New Center area.[51] New stops would have included the Amtrak station, Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Hospital. The plan was proposed at a tentative cost of $150–200 million, and would have been paid for by a combination of public and private financing.[citation needed] Much of the proposed route to New Center would eventually be followed by the QLine streetcar, which opened in 2017.

Rolling stock[edit]

Car interior

The People Mover's fleet consists of twelve automated Intermediate Capacity Transit System Mark I cars, built by the Urban Transportation Development Corporation in Kingston, Ontario.[52] The model is also used on the SkyTrain in Vancouver, and was previously operated on the Scarborough RT in Toronto before its shutdown in 2023. They operate in two-car trains.

The trains originally bore a white livery with green and yellow stripes. Beginning in the early 2000s, the cars began to be wrapped with advertisements; by the 2010s, every car was adorned with an ad wrap.

As of 2023, DTC is planning to acquire the Scarborough RT's S series railcars from the Toronto Transit Commission, potentially replacing the People Mover's entire existing fleet.[42][43]

Operations and maintenance[edit]

The People Mover's operations center, garage, and maintenance facilities are located at the Times Square station.[53] Cars enter the garage via a siding, which branches off from the main line to a second platform at Times Square. This siding allows the system to be used in a two-way bypass manner when part of the circular track is closed. Maintenance equipment is lifted up to track level by crane, but not stored with the DPM cars.

Former DTC offices, Buhl Building


The People Mover is owned and operated by the Detroit Transportation Corporation (DTC), a public body corporate funded by, but independent of, the Detroit city government.[39] The agency is governed by a six-member Board of Directors, which appoints a General Manager to oversee day-to-day operations.[54][55] DTC is currently headquartered on the 29th floor of the Guardian Building, near the Financial District station.[56]

Transit Police and security[edit]

Transit Police patrol vehicle

In addition to operating the People Mover, DTC is also the parent organization of the Detroit Transit Police.[16][55] The department's roughly 30 officers have full arrest powers,[57] with jurisdiction over the People Mover, DDOT buses, and the Rosa Parks and State Fair Transit Centers.[16][39][58]

Originally formed only to patrol the People Mover, the Transit Police were contracted by DDOT for bus patrols beginning in March 2014, in response a spike in crime on buses, and a shortage of Detroit Police Department officers amid the Detroit bankruptcy.[59] The Transit Police also patrolled the QLINE under contract from the system's 2017 opening until 2024.[60]

The Detroit Police Department took over QLINE patrols on February 1, 2024, and is scheduled to assume DDOT patrols on July 1 of this year.[60]

As of May 2022, the Transit Police do not conduct regular patrols on the People Mover, with the DTC instead contracting with private security firms for People Mover guards; they initially hired Detroit-based City Shield Security Services, before switching to Securitas in April 2023.[16]


The system was designed to move up to 15 million riders a year. In 2008 it served approximately 2 million riders. This meant the system averaged about 7,500 people per day, about 2.5 percent of its daily peak capacity of 288,000.[61][62] In 2006, the Mover filled less than 10 percent of its seats.[47]

Among the busiest periods was the five days around the 2006 Super Bowl XL, when 215,910 patrons used the service.[citation needed] In addition to major downtown concerts and sporting events, other high ridership times include the week of the annual North American International Auto Show in January and the Youmacon anime convention at the end of October, ever since the convention expanded in 2012 to use Huntington Place in addition to the Renaissance Center. The system had 92,384 riders during the 2014 extended con weekend.[63]

Year Calendar year ridership
(Jan 1 – Dec 31)
Fiscal year ridership
(Jul 1 – Jun 30)
2001 2,369,915 2,104,832
2002 1,837,807 2,186,526
2003 1,017,243 1,267,927
2004 953,753 922,644
2005 1,792,924 1,339,646
2006 2,368,361 2,307,909
2007 2,320,433 2,307,774
2008 2,059,714 2,315,395
2009 2,161,436 1,941,501
2010 2,216,800 2,181,440
2011 2,285,358 2,408,131
2012 2,085,487 2,046,444
2013 2,207,333 2,118,301
2014 2,357,520 2,140,066
2015 2,413,414 2,442,031
2016 2,165,352 2,286,383
2017 2,095,415 2,212,662
2018 1,915,173 1,952,505
2019 1,605,283


1990 derailment[edit]

In 1990, a train derailed at Cadillac Center after a manhole cover fell onto the track.[65]

2015 derailment[edit]

On January 22, 2015, at approximately 10:10 PM, one of the cars jumped a rail, hitting the platform at Times Square. No injuries were reported, and the system was shut down for 17 hours for an investigation. According to a DTC press release, a bracket beneath the train dislodged and caught underneath the rear car, causing the train to disengage from the track. A door was dislodged upon impact.[66]

2016 accident[edit]

On May 15, 2016, 53-year-old Michael Whyte fell onto the track between the cars of a stopped train at Times Square. The train then departed automatically as normal, dragging Whyte along the track to his death. Following the incident, bollards were added to the system's platforms, preventing passengers from falling into the space between the cars.[65] Whyte's family filed a lawsuit, alleging negligence on the part of DTC.[67] Whyte's death is, to date, the only fatal accident in the People Mover's history.[65]


Bilingual platform signage at Financial District station

The network has 13 stations. As the system runs in a one-way loop with a single track, each station only has one side platform, except for Times Square, which has a siding leading to the system's garage and an island platform.[53]

Station Location
Broadway Broadway Street and John R Street
Grand Circus Park Park Street & Woodward Avenue (attached to David Whitney Building)
Times Square Grand River Avenue & Times Square
Michigan Avenue Michigan Avenue & Cass Avenue
Fort/Cass Fort Street & Cass Avenue
Huntington Place Cass Street & Congress Street (inside Huntington Place)
West Riverfront 3rd Street & Jefferson Avenue
Financial District Larned Street & Shelby Street (attached to 150 West Jefferson)
Millender Center Randolph & Jefferson Avenue (inside Milender Center)
Renaissance Center Renaissance Center
Bricktown Beaubien Street & East Fort Street
Greektown Beaubien Street between Monroe & East Lafayette Street
Cadillac Center Gratiot Avenue & Library Street (attached to One Campus Martius parking garage)

Public art[edit]

Originally, the 13 stations were not planned to have any distinctive features. However, in 1984, after construction had recently begun, Irene Walt assembled a volunteer committee to persuade the project agency to include artwork in each station. Called the Downtown Detroit People Mover Art Commission (later known as Art in the Stations),[68] they raised $2 million to finance the project. As a result, there are 18 new original pieces of art spread throughout the stations, plus a piece from 1903 that had previously been in storage, on permanent loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The commission's efforts and art installation were documented in a 30-minute film, Art in the Stations, by Sue Marx and Pamela Conn, who had recently won an Academy Award for the short documentary Young at Heart.[69] Art in the Stations premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1989. In 2004, a coffee table book by Walt, also titled Art in the Stations, was published, with photographs by Balthazar Korab and information on all the station artwork and the artists who created them.[70][71]

Art was completed with the system opening in 1987 unless otherwise noted:

  • Grand Circus Park
  • Times Square
    • In Honor of W. Hawkins Ferry (Artist: Tom Phardel / Pewabic Pottery – glazed tile)
    • Untitled (1993) (Artist: Anat Shiftan / Pewabic Pottery – tile mural)
  • Michigan Avenue
    • Voyage (Artist: Allie McGhee – tile mural)
    • On the Move (Artist: Kirk Newman – cast bronze shape on tile)
  • Fort/Cass
    • Untitled (Artist: Farley Tobin – tile mural)
    • Progression II (1993) (Artist: Sandra jo Osip – bronze sculpture)
  • Huntington Place
    • Calvacade of Cars (1988) (Artist: Larry Ebel/Linda Cianciolo Scarlett – mural)
  • West Riverfront
  • Financial District
    • 'D' for Detroit (Artist: Joyce Kozloff – hand painted ceramic mural)
  • Millender Center
  • Renaissance Center
    • Dreamers and Voyagers Come to Detroit (Artist: George Woodman – ceramic tile mural; destroyed with original station's demolition in 2002)
    • Siberian Ram (1993) (Artist: Marshall Fredericks – cast bronze sculpture)
    • Path Games (2004) (Artist: George Woodman – ceramic tile mural)
  • Bricktown
    • Beaubien Passage (Artist: Glen Michaels – bas relief on porcelain panels)
  • Greektown
    • Neon for the Greektown Station (Artist: Stephen Antonakos – free form neon light display)
  • Cadillac Center
  • Broadway

See also[edit]


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  71. ^ Art in the Stations. Detroit Transportation Corporation. 2006.

External links[edit]

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