[Source: Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press] — When passengers began riding new light rail trains in the Phoenix area last December, many questions were on their minds. Can light rail succeed in a city where car is king? Will the trains survive searing desert heat in the summer? Is it worth the $1.4 billion it cost to build? A year later, the system is carrying 50 percent more people than expected, the trains survived the summer and kept riders cool, and many of the kinks of introducing a new mode of transportation to the nation’s fifth largest city have been worked out.
Now the big question is: Can light rail continue to maintain its ridership and service amid the recession while moving forward with plans to expand the system from 20 to 57 miles? “It’s going to be very hard. The challenges are going to be severe,” said Rod Diridon, executive director of the San Jose, Calif.-based Mineta Transportation Institute, a nonpartisan research group that conducts transportation policy studies.
Diridon said it’s “absolutely remarkable” that Phoenix has managed to see higher ridership than expected while maintaining service this past year. “All across the nation transit systems depend on sales and property tax dollars, and because sales tax revenues are down in some places as much as 50 percent, service has been cut back and ridership is down in most places,” Diridon said. “The opposite is true in Phoenix. They’ve retained ridership and maintained service. That’s a phenomenal success given the state of the economy.”
It’s not been an easy task for light-rail operator Metro. The agency had to pay about $500,000 more than the expected $1.5 million to keep the trains cool all year long, fund an educational program for passengers who were inadvertently not paying for their rides, and lay off about 20 people. [Note: To read the full article, visit Phoenix area’s light rail system marks 1st year.]