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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.]