News Story

Election Season In Detroit, And Here Comes Another Transit Scheme

Mayor candidate calls for ‘personal rapid transit’ pods

One candidate hoping to become Detroit’s next mayor has proposed a magnetically levitated transit system called “skyTran.”

The mass transit system would use two-person, computer-controlled pods to transport people on an above-ground rail network, according to a document released by Democratic candidate Coleman Young II, currently a state senator.

At least one longtime observer of public transportation systems in the U.S. dismisses the idea: “To call two-person pods mass transit is madness; it needs ‘mass,’” said Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation.

According to Poole, such systems “cost a fortune and they’ll only attract such a small portion of the population, that’s a rounding error on how much they improve congestion, and a rounding error on how much they will improve mobility.”

The document claims the mass transit system could position the city for new development in an age of driverless transit, much like the automobile did for Detroit 100 years ago.

Young’s campaign document suggests that building an elevated tram system would only cost around 10 percent of the cost of a traditional light-rail system, and would use less energy.

The concept came from the private company skyTran.

“I think a lot of people have difficulty scaling things up to a level where they actually have an impact,” Poole said. “This money could probably be much better served by rethinking how the bus system runs.”

If built, Young’s system wouldn’t be the first light rail project in Detroit. The Detroit People Mover has been in operation since 1983 and the QLine began operating earlier this year.

The People Mover cost $24.2 million to operate in 2016 but brought in just $1.4 million in fare revenue according to Detroit’s most recent annual financial report. Grants and contributions from other sources filled $14.9 million of the gap, leaving the city on the hook for almost $8 million in expenses. Each year, it provides a reported 2.1 million rides for residents and visitors around its three-mile loop.

Rico Razo, campaign manager for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, declined to comment on the proposed elevated-rail tram system.

Young’s campaign did not respond to questions about the proposal.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.