Light rail notches a success in the West

Any proposed new mass transit system inevitably touches off a religious war between those who see light rail as the saving grace of car-choked, sprawling metropolitan areas, and those who view it as an expensive boondoggle. Unsurprisingly, my sympathies lie with mass transit advocates, but of course it’s important that expensive public works projects actually serve the taxpayers that foot the bill.

So it’s nice to see that Phoenix’s new light rail system has surpassed ridership expectations. The 20-mile system linking Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa was projected to carry 26,000 riders per day. Currently it’s averaging 33,000. Moreover, the rail line has attracted $3.5 billion in private investment along its length, and the newly accessible downtown area has seen its revenue rise by 13%, even as revenue in the rest of the city has fallen by 16%. Another 37 miles of track are already in the works.

The pattern of ridership in Phoenix is unusual. On most rail systems, the majority of passengers are commuters. In Phoenix, the system is more popular with people traveling to restaurants, ball games, and cultural events during the nights and weekends. Perhaps that will change over time, as people begin to make decisions about where to live based on access to rail. It takes many decades to shape the built environment, and that process requirements smart and deliberate investments like the one Phoenix is making.

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  1. Almost - September 30, 2009

    The light rail changed downtown. It changed the way to use the airport. A section is being added to allow more direct access. Phoenix is changing. Now if we could get more solar projects worked out.

  2. gooseduckstevens - September 30, 2009

    Charlotte also has a successful light rail project in place that has greatly exceeded ridership estimates. Prior to the light rail opening, there were several attempts to eliminate the funding source for the rail (1/2 cent sales tax) and stop the project altogether. There was actually a referendum placed on the ballot in the 2006 election to pull the 1/2 cent sales tax. Of course, this was overwhelmingly voted down and the train is now operational. Interesting that we don’t hear much from the folks that thought it was a bad idea anymore.

  3. Marty McNeil, METRO (Phx) - September 30, 2009

    Our success also comes from great community partners, such as the Phoenix Suns and US Airways Center, with whom we just launched a unique ticketing deal. Any ticket to any event at US Airways Center for the next year has light rail fare built-in.
    Another partner is Local First Arizona, which has built a music performance program into and around the light rail system.
    And many small business owners along the line, who stuck with us through a painful construction period, promote light rail through specials and in their advertising.

  4. Ken Mc Kinney - September 30, 2009

    We ( wife and I) agree, this has been a great addition to Phoenix. After seeing San Jose light rail grow quite slow, we lived there, we didn’t expect this rapid acceptance.
    We have taken it together ( for theater) and I have used it many times to get to Convention center. Free Parking at Major stops if a god send. No parking fees, no traffic jams to see a ball game, go to the theater, Pick up packets for Marathons/ races at convention center

  5. Jonathan Chen - October 7, 2009

    I miss this kind of governmental enthusiasm for long term benefit. Auckland, New Zealand is a city of 1.3 million with neverending traffic congestion. Instead of considering light rail or improving the bus system sufficiently, the answer acceptable with the average citizen is to build more roads. What a crock for a country that promotes its clean, green image.