Reflections of a Detroit Native

by Jack Fowler

Eric Pianin, Washington Bureau Chief of The Fiscal Times, reminisces about his home town, which has been singing the blues for decades as it headed for bankruptcy. Part of that journey has been on Motown’s infamous “People Mover”:

Some time back in the early 1990s, I returned to my hometown of Detroit and took a ride on the “People Mover,” an elevated train that looped through the Motor City. The federally funded project was supposed to help revive a downtown in need of a jumpstart, but instead it showcased the plight of a once-great city caught in a downward spiral.

My brief trip around Detroit that one Friday afternoon revealed a shocking and troubling insight: My sister and I were practically the only passengers on the train. And at virtually each of the 13 stops along the way, we were greeted with boarded up or dilapidated buildings. . . .

Detroit’s People Mover in a small way epitomized much of what has led to the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. It was a superficial fix that lined the pockets of developers and provided politicians with a photo-op, while doing little to improve people’s lives. The train was like an aging car with a sputtering engine that could run smoothly with new hubcaps.

The multi-million-dollar train was designed to accommodate up to 15 million passengers a year on its three-mile track. But after the ceremonial ribbons were snipped in 1987, it was quickly ignored by locals and tourists, serving a few thousand riders a day. For years, the city essentially was spending $4 or more to subsidize every 75-cent rider fare.