DETROIT — Writer, photographer, and University of Michigan professor Nick Tobier’s latest publication, Looping Detroit: A People Mover Travelogue, takes as its subject one of Detroit’s longest-running inside jokes: an elevated tram that circulates endlessly, and often completely without passengers, on a 2.9-mile track connecting 13 stations around the immediate city center. Built in 1987, following a “driverless transit car” craze in the 1970s, it is viewed by all as a failure of public infrastructure.
The People Mover is inarguably ridiculous as a form of public transit — not least because it services a hilariously small footprint. A huge portion of Detroit’s diffuse population lacks a means of personal transportation, instead forced to stand in wait for a notoriously unreliable bus system (read the harrowing and heartwarming human interest story of Detroiter James Robertson for a case in-point). Meanwhile, the $210 million dollar People Mover is basically only employed to shuttle people who already have cars from parking garages to downtown entertainment centers. It represents a sobering mismanagement of resources.