Blog Archives

ASU grad launches iPhone app for Phoenix light rail riders

[Source: Arizona Republic Light Rail Blog] — An Arizona State University grad has launched a free iPhone application to help people ride Phoenix’s light rail system.  For each station, it features a map, bus connections, a train schedule and travel times to other train stops.  The app also has “how-to” information for riding the system and using fare machines.  Since he launched the app on Dec. 8, Mitch Karren says 750 people have downloaded it.  The curious come from 25 different countries, from China, which has the most subscribers outside the United States, to Mid-East minnow Qatar.

Karren graduated in June 2008 with a degree housing and community development, the exact worst time to jump into Arizona’s turbulent real estate industry.  A week later he was laid off from his real estate related job.  He decided to enroll in a class to learn how to write iPhone apps.  “I noticed other cities had pretty well established iPhone apps for their transit systems,” he said.  “I wanted this to be a service to Phoenix.”

The service has been well received.  Thirty-three people posted reviews, mostly giving it five stars.  Comments range from “wicked, awesome,” to the one critic who calls it “predictable.”

Karren is seeing a steady 22 downloads a day, with only word-of-mouth for marketing.  About 500 users have accessed it 1,500 times.  His analytics data tells him Saturday is the busiest day people use the application and the 8 p.m. hour the busiest hour in each day.  People are most interested in information for the end of the line stations.  In the spring, Karren plans to update the app with information about surrounding businesses.  Ultimately he wants to give people real-time information about where the trains are.  In time, he’s hoping to expand the service to Blackberry and Android phones.

Phoenix area’s light rail system marks 1st year

[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.]

Future light rail extensions to Glendale in study phase

[Source: EV Living] — Glendale is home to two professional sports franchises, an Air Force base, and more than a few casinos, but not the Metro Light Rail.  Valley Metro introduced the light rail in December, 2008, with a 20-mile route extending from Mesa through Tempe, and into Phoenix.

The light rail is the first of its kind in the Valley.  Although effective in transporting Arizona State University students between campuses, fans to downtown Phoenix sports complexes, and commuters going to work, the rest of the Valley has yet to feel its impact.  But Valley Metro has future extension plans in the works.

According to http://www.valleymetro.org, they plan to extend further into north Phoenix, further east into Mesa, and west to Glendale between 2012 and 2030.  The Valley Metro board is already beginning to enter into a study phase of five different routes to the Glendale area, Metro Light Rail Public Information Officer Hillary Foose said.

Some of the proposed routes include one to historic downtown Glendale, one west along Interstate 10 and north on Loop 101, and one going along Glendale Avenue, Foose said.  Initial plans were to have the extension go directly to downtown, however after some uproar they decided to look into other options.  “Plans are still very preliminary at this point,” she said.   [Note: To read the full article, visit Future light rail extensions to Glendale in study phase.]

New light rail guide features metro Phoenix arts and culture locales, deals

METRO-ArtsCulture-RideGuide_CoverMETRO and 39 Valley arts and culture venues are marking National Arts and Humanities Month with a new light rail destination guide.  The 33-page full-color METRO Arts and Culture Ride Guide features photos, descriptions, and contact information for each venue on the line in Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, along with station maps and bus connections.

Getting to great entertainment is as easy as (1) choosing the venue, (2) using the guide to find the nearest light rail stop, and (3) buying a transit pass at any light rail station.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Arts and Culture Ride Guide and review special discounts offered by arts and culture venues to celebrate the release of the Guide.  The printed guide is available at visitor centers, arts venues, and hotels along the light rail line.

In Phoenix, weekend users make light rail a success

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Valley Metro train on Washington St. in Phoenix, where ridership exceeds expectations. (Photo credlt: Joshua Lott, New York Times)

[Source: Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times] — Among the many detractors — and they were multitudinous — who thought a light rail line in this sprawling city would be a riderless $1 billion failure was Starlee Rhoades, the spokeswoman for the Goldwater Institute, a vocal critic of the rail’s expense. “I’ve taken it,” Ms. Rhoades said, slightly sheepishly.  “It’s useful.”

She and her colleagues still think the rail is oversubsidized, but in terms of predictions of failure, she said, “We don’t dwell.”

The light rail here, which opened in December, has been a greater success than its proponents thought it would be, but not quite the way they envisioned.  Unlike the rest of the country’s public transportation systems, which are used principally by commuters, the 20 miles of light rail here stretching from central Phoenix to Mesa and Tempe is used largely by people going to restaurants, bars, ball games and cultural events downtown.  The rail was projected to attract 26,000 riders per day, but the number is closer to 33,000, boosted in large part by weekend riders.  Only 27 percent use the train for work, according to its operator, compared with 60 percent of other public transit users on average nationwide.

In some part thanks to the new system, downtown Phoenix appears to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise economically pummeled city, which like the rest of Arizona has suffered under the crushing slide of the state’s economy.  The state, for years almost totally dependent on growth, has one of the deepest budget deficits in the country.   [Note: To read the full article, visit In Phoenix, weekend users make light rail a success.]

CityCircles aims to build community along light rail via technology

[Source: Adam Klawonn and Aleksandra Chojnacka] — This past December, Phoenix debuted a new light rail system which has changed the physical and social landscape of the city.  We believe this will create an entirely new culture of city residents who use mass transit and mobile devices to interact with the city.  To accommodate them, CityCircles will use print, web and mobile technology to cater to these new commuters, offering news, events, promotions, and social networking features on a stop-by-stop basis so that they can interact with the city on a more meaningful level.

The idea developed in a digital media entrepreneurship class at Arizona State University and now here we are almost a year later and finally getting it off the ground thanks to funding we’ve received through the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge.  Originally, the site was to be called Daily Phoenix.  However, after many hours of brainstorming we settled on the name CityCircles, which we feel is a much better fit for the project’s function (building content around light rail stops – get it?) and its scope (the rail also travels through Tempe and Mesa).  CityCircles is scheduled to launch in October 2009.  We will be posting our progress, related news, and information about upcoming events at this website.

Phoenix theater troupe performs on light rail

In this know99 Television segment, Motion Theatre Company performs on Valley Metro’s light rail trains.  For more information about know99, click here.

Care to adopt a Phoenix light rail station?

Admittedly puppies are cuter than light rail trains. We'll do anything to get you to read this stuff!

[Source: Si Robins, Downtown Phoenix Journal] — METRO has enacted an Adopt-A-Station initiative along the light rail line.  During the press conference, which took place at the Roosevelt/Central station (aka “Arts District” station), Mesa Vice Mayor and METRO Board Vice Chairman Kyle Jones boasted that Mesa’s lone stop at Main and Sycamore is the busiest of any of the rail stations, much to the chagrin of Phoenix Vice Mayor and METRO Board Chairman Tom Simplot.  (Simplot argued that 19th and Montebello, the line’s “first” station, is by far the busiest.)  Though fisticuffs didn’t ensue, a staged challenge between the Mesan and the Phoenician was presented: During September, if Mesa’s line proves to indeed be the busiest, Simplot will personally maintain the station’s appearance.  The same goes for Jones and the Montebello station.  Game on!

While these shenanigans play out, there’s business to attend to.  Specifically, local business.  Downtown has stations that need neighborhood sponsors.  Here are my suggestions.  Let me know what you want.

  • Camelback/Central station: There’s a cluster of great, quirky business on the northwest corner of this intersection. Stinkweeds, Frances, Smeeks, Red Hot Robot: I’m looking at you guys.
  • Campbell/Central station: It’s not like Lux or Pane Bianco need the press, but you can’t deny that these two spots bring vibrancy to this intersection.  I’d be fine with Lux baristas pouring cappuccinos, then running outside to sweep up debris from last night’s storm.
  • Indian School/Central station: I guess the fight club/storage facility got demolished.  So, that’s out.  How about Steele Indian School Park?  It’s one of the city’s biggest parks, yet one of its hidden gems.
  • Osborn/Central station: Tossup between Phoenix Country Club and Encanto Park.  Golfing downtown, anyone?
  • Thomas/Central station: The hospital will probably win out here.  Either that or Phillips and Associates.  They’re everywhere.
  • Encanto/Central station: We need the Heard to take this, right?
  • McDowell/Central station: I’d prefer Thai Hut take this.  Can we somehow make this happen?
  • Roosevelt/Central station: The obvious answers here would be NBC 12, Fair Trade Café or Portland’s.  But, how about Portland Place lofts, with several units in escrow and a bankrupt developer, getting its name out there?  Any advertising would help!
  • Van Buren/Central and Van Buren/1st Avenue stations: I’m sure Michael Crow already put in his bid.
  • Washington/Central and Jefferson/Central: Hello, CityScape.
  • Washington/3rd Street and Jefferson/3rd Street: The Phoenix Suns are going to need as much money coming in as possible this season with the way things are looking.  Take that into consideration, Robert Sarver.

Anyone have any other thoughts?

5 court divisions for crime in Mesa appear on way out (to downtown Phoenix)

[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Efforts to fight the move of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions from Mesa to [downtown] Phoenix appear to have hit a brick wall.  Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell rejected Mesa Mayor Scott Smith’s idea of leaving one criminal division in Mesa or to delay her expedited consolidation plan for six months.  “It seems like they have made their decision,” Smith said.  “They’ll do what they do.”

Smith, longtime Mesa activist Milt Lee, and former County Supervisor Tom Freestone also worry that moving the five criminal divisions to Phoenix might be the first step toward the loss of additional county services in the southeast Valley.  When the Southeast Regional Facility was approved by voters in 1986 and opened in 1991, the idea was to create a one-stop shop that would bring county services closer to southeast Valley residents.  “I think they have a lot of people watching them to make sure they keep their commitment,” Smith said.

A key setback in efforts to block the move was that voters authorized the criminal-court consolidation in 2002 when they approved the extension of a jail tax that built the Fourth Avenue Jail and other facilities.  [Note: Read the full article at 5 court divisions for crime in Mesa appear on way out (to downtown Phoenix)]

Out until 2 a.m.? Toast new Phoenix light rail hours

[Source: Sean Holstege and Megan Finnerty, Arizona Republic] — Valley residents and business owners will get their wish for late-night, light-rail service today when Metro starts running weekend trains until the early-morning hours.  For Friday- and Saturday-night revelers and other late travelers, the shift means that the last trains will pull out of the end-of-line stations about 3:15 a.m. rather than 12:15 a.m.  Night owls can catch a train along the 20-mile route until about 3:30 a.m.  The last trains run only about halfway down the line.  The final weekend trains running the entire length leave at about 2 a.m.

Patrons, business owners and civic promoters see the longer hours as an opportunity for downtown Phoenix and Tempe’s Mill Avenue to prove they can achieve the kind of exciting nightlife other big cities have.  Bar and restaurant patrons will have less of a reason to go home early and less of a need to appoint a designated driver, unless they’re using park-and-ride lots.  Those needs hinder the area’s ability to generate business and street life, some patrons say.  “I think they should have done this in the first place,” said Josh Agustin, 33, bar manager at Pasta Bar, one of downtown Phoenix’s newest restaurants.  “The lack of light rail is the biggest complaint I hear.  I think that a lot of people leave the downtown early because of light rail (hours).  Now, people will come in later.”

Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said the service also will help late-night workers and downtown concertgoers by giving them another way to get home.   “People are overwhelmingly excited about it,” Foose said.  “(Still) it’s hard to say what reception this late-night service will receive.”

To help promote the change, Kimber Lanning, director of non-profit Local First Arizona, is working with downtown music destinations to offer discounts for concerts and other incentives for riding light rail.  Various bar and restaurant owners are planning similar promotions.  Local First Arizona promotes doing business with companies based in the state.  Metro plans to run extended weekend hours indefinitely but has enough federal money to pay for only the first year of extra service, which costs an estimated $250,000.  The Regional Public Transportation Authority hiked fares sharply on Wednesday because of rising costs and declining municipal sales-tax revenue, which helps finance the system.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]