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Detroit News Interviews DTC Interim General Manager - January 2022

Detroit News Interviews DTC Interim GM Garry D. Bulluck

  • Operations activities have been ongoing 
  • System was delayed in December due to staff contracting COVID 

Originally published online in the January 11 The Detroit News, Interim General Manager Garry Bulluck details the current status of the Detroit People Mover and outlines the required steps necessary for the system to reopen. 

When the Detroit People Mover is expected to resume service

Sarah Rahal

The Detroit News\6:21 pm January 11, 2022

Detroit — The Detroit People Mover is expected to resume service this spring after it's cleared by inspectors following a nearly two-year shutdown, officials told The Detroit News on Tuesday. 

The trains have been spotted on the guideway track in recent weeks as they undergo testing ahead of an anticipated March relaunch. The system's operations must first gain final approvals from the Michigan Department of Transportation, officials noted. 

As of Tuesday, the city did not have a set date for an MDOT inspection.

"We expect MDOT to come and do an inspection in the next couple weeks and about 30 days after that will be the longest (for certification) so mid-to-late February," said Gary Bulluck, interim general manager of the Detroit Transportation Corporation. "We're hopeful because the state is a great partner and will help move the process along. We hope that not past the end of February we are expected to be closed."

Bulluck's remarks clarified an estimate provided earlier Tuesday by officials with the transportation corporation that indicated the railway would be open within a month. 

The service has been suspended on the 2.9-mile route in downtown Detroit since March 30, 2020, after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Michigan.

"It's a 30-year train system sitting dormant for two years, and we need to make sure that it's in the best condition," Bulluck said. "We've updated brakes and we've made sure our control systems are working in order."

Once the city's testing is complete, the state will need to certify that the People Mover's staffing, safety plans and make sure it's in compliance, he said. 

The track was expected to reopen in the fall but that plan was delayed after heavy rainfall entered several stations through open-air platforms, sparking the need for additional inspections, the Detroit Transportation Corporation said in September.

The repair schedule continues, for stormwater-affected escalators, Bulluck noted, adding that the rain impacted the electrified 24-hour rail guideway.

"Because our stations are open-air, we are prone to the elements," he said. "We were initially set to have the state come down after polishing everything up in December and then we had an outbreak in our staff of COVID."

Normally 75 cents per ride, the People Mover will be free for the first 60-90 days after service does resume. 

The People Mover first launched service in Detroit on July 31, 1987, with a fleet of 11 fully automated vehicles, which are deployed in two-car trains, that transport riders through downtown Detroit and in the city's central business district. There are 13 stations and traveling the full route takes approximately 15 minutes, officials noted. 

In 2018, the sky train had nearly 2 million riders, which dropped to 1.6 million riders in 2019. January through March 2020, the People Mover had serviced nearly 270,000 riders before closing, city transportation officials said. 

There was a mix of riders before the pandemic, Bulluck said: about 50-60% were office workers in the downtown area. Others included weekend social riders, residents and seniors who don't have cars but live nearby, and a small percent are tourists from hotels and conventions.

Bulluck said there has not been a thought to discontinue the People Mover and the Detroit Transportation Corporation is retaining ownership.

Prior to the pandemic, the People Mover generated about $1 million to $1.5 million in revenue annually from fairs, passes, conventions and advertising space, Bulluck said.

"It's a city of Detroit legacy and because of the destruction of Joe Louis Arena, we've had to shift how we get our riders," he said. "We're not like DDOT (the Detroit Department of Transportation) where they have hundreds of thousands of riders. The city is one of our primary sponsors for operating revenue and the pandemic has allowed us to become more efficient, more lean in our work, and has helped us figure out different ways to generate revenue by sponsorship and advertising."

The department has about 10 staff vacancies that it is working to fill and will have to operate with limited service hours and grow into longer periods when it is adequately staffed, Bulluck said. Operating hours for spring have not yet been announced. 

The Detroit Transportation Corporation is planning a public listening session to reintroduce the community to the service, but a date was not immediately set.

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