Detroit’s “Mugger Mover” celebrates 25 years of ‘sort of’ operation

We don’t hear much about SkyTrain elsewhere and I wonder why? Well I know the answer, SkyTrain reign of operation elsewhere has not been as successful as the SkyTrain lobby would have us believe. Please take note of the serious issues regarding the Detroit’s ICTS’s guideway, as previous discussion on the RftV commnets has been about future costly problems with the Vancouver’s aging SkyTrain guideway.

The locally knownAi??‘Mugger-Mover’ was the first incarnation of the SkyTrain family of mini metros, with the concept being several cells of roughly 4 km looped single track loops, built in urban centres. The concept was soon proven unworkable and the Detroit ICTS/Skytrain system is the result, a lone 4.5 km single track loop, that doesn’t really offer much advantages to transit customers. Managers at Ontario’s UTDC, quickly redefined Skytrain as an urban mini-metro, but as history has shown, the proprietary railway has met with little success.

The Detroit “Mugger Mover” is on life support and its time is ever coming closer to being a historical footnote, just like Toronto’s Scarbough ICTS.

When will the Skytrain lobby admit that SkyTrain is obsolete, made obsolete by LRT, which Skytrain was suppoed to make obsolete.

The Detroit People Mover celebrates its silver anniversary today with discounts at local businesses.

(Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

The Detroit People Mover turns 25 today, marking a proud quarter-century of occasionally carrying me to lunch.

It also once took me to the Renaissance Center for a charity event on what happened to be the night of a Red Wings playoff game. Given that everyone else aboard was in red or white and I was wearing a tuxedo, I stood out a bit, so I told them I was singing the national anthems and led everyone in a rendition of “O Canada.”

In celebration of the anniversary, the People Mover people have rustled up discounts from some of the 380 businesses and venues close enough to the track that you can hear the wheels squeal. You’ll find the list at

You’ll also find a DJ at Campus Martius from noon-2 p.m. and a People Mover photo exhibit in the Compuware atrium.

The record-spinner is known as DJ Invisible, which coincidentally is what the People Mover became after one of my favorite people-moving moments.

Conceived as lab rat

We’re talking about a rail system that’s loopy in every way, from its 2.9-mile route to the general lack of usage to the overruns that pushed a $137 million project to a final reported tally of $210 million.

The People Mover was conceived as a sort of lab rat for federal urban transit projects ai??i?? “Let’s try it in Detroit, so if it doesn’t work nobody will notice!” ai??i?? and was supposed to carry tens of thousands of daily passengers who had arrived on our shiny new light-rail system.

Unfortunately, the light-rail system was never built, so we wound up with a hole and no doughnut.

It’s a nice hole, mind you, clean and safe and quite handy when you need it. But it’s been luckless from the start, and was an unwitting victim of the Hudson’s implosion on Oct. 24, 1998.

I’d let myself into the abandoned department store a year before with a demolition expert. Looks like an enjoyable project, he’d said, but it’s complicated and unpredictable. If you don’t use wrecking balls, you’ll need to build a steel cage to protect the People Mover track.

Naturally, the city opted not to shell out for the cage, even though the route ran only 12 feet behind the store. A chunk of the 439-foot-tall building took a wrong turn and punched out a 350-foot length of track, and the People Mover was out of commission for a year.

Problems big and small

Even during construction, the poor People Mover had issues. In 1985, the Los Angeles Times pointed out that it had “lost its central purpose and tends to fall apart.”

Sixteen of the 183 support beams had already cracked, and two-thirds of the 173 guideway beams needed maintenance or outright replacement ai??i?? 18 months before the first passenger dropped a token into a slot.

One of the beams didn’t even make it into position before it required first aid. There was a minor hiccup with a crane, and a 100-ton mass of concrete and steel bars went crashing to the street.

A police officer happened to be standing nearby. “The last thing I heard,” he said, “was, ‘Oops.’”

That’s become the word I most associate with the People Mover. The train stalls for no apparent reason? Oops. The turnstile eats a token and stays shut? Oops.

The good rides have far outnumbered the rocky ones, though, so happy silver anniversary to the very best transit system between here and Greektown ai??i?? and may the oopses be outnumbered by the opas.

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