Propaganda on why we need the stinking worthless bus system in the Valley!
Public transit woos Valley's commuters Popularity could strengthen case for light rail, some say
Sean Holstege The Arizona Republic Mar. 20, 2006 12:00 AM
It's 6:45 a.m. in Ahwatukee and the commute is in full swing.
In a steady stream, solo drivers pull into a parking lot on Pecos Road, get out and line up to board one of the I-10 Rapid buses.
If it's standing room only, some wait 10 minutes for the next bus, just to get a plush recliner so they can settle back with a book or an iPod on the way to downtown Phoenix.
"Now, if you're not on the bus by 7 a.m., you can count on standing," said Toni Brouillard, a 50-year-old east Chandler resident who works as an executive assistant at JPMorgan.
Increasingly, this scene plays out every day in park-and-ride lots throughout the Valley.
Over the past two fiscal years, the number of riders on the region's commuter buses has jumped 57 percent. While the raw numbers were still small, an average 5,213 per weekday, the surge outpaced a healthy 11 percent jump in overall bus ridership. This year, ridership on Rapid and Express buses is on pace to grow an additional 14 percent.
The reasons are varied, from gas prices to expanded service. But if the trend holds, transit officials say, it signals transit is beginning to woo its hardest fans, those higher-income suburbanites who are joined to their cars at the hip. It also could build support for bus and light-rail expansions.
No one is saying yet that the Valley has arrived as a big-league bus and rail town, like Los Angeles or Atlanta. But the signs of a deepening buy-in by the public are more pronounced.
"Commuters want this kind of service. They're sick of congestion and sick of unpredictability," said David Schwartz, executive director of Friends of Transit. "The biggest complaint I hear is: 'I live in - pick a community - when are we going to get it?' "
Until recently, buses have historically been the domain of the working poor. In the Valley, the heaviest ridership occurs in dense central urban neighborhoods where three homes in 10 have no car.
According to a 2001 Valley Metro study, the average annual income of people who rode local buses was $26,000, compared with $49,600 for express riders.
Lower-income riders will remain the system's anchor. They need and demand transit more. But to put a greater dent in reducing traffic and smog, transit officials also want to attract "choice riders," those who choose how to commute. That means running service, by bus or light-rail, into middle-class suburbs.
Valley Metro, or the Regional Public Transportation Authority, now runs 19 Rapid and Express routes.
In coming years, the commuter routes will expand dramatically.
Last month, RPTA got its first check from Proposition 400, which was approved two years ago and will inject $3 billion into expanding and improving bus service over the next 20 years.
The first of those changes will occur this summer, when a new rural bus route to Wickenburg begins and 62 new buses arrive, most to replace aging vehicles.
Over the next two decades, RPTA will bring in 2,100 new buses and add as many as 31 express routes. It will also improve service on as many as 34 local streets where buses cross city lines. The RPTA board authorized last week spending $630,000 to move ahead with half a dozen studies to plan long-term bus service.
The first big boost in Rapid service comes in 2008, when six new routes begin. Next year, RPTA adds a single Rapid route to serve the north Route 101 loop.
"Prop. 400 allows us to go much further. We have an opportunity we haven't had in years, if ever. The sky's the limit," RPTA Executive Director David Boggs said.
Commuters choose the bus over their cars for a variety of reasons: time, money, employer discounts or peace of mind.
Laura Webb, who lives in Ahwatukee, began taking the I-10 line two years ago after she learned about it from word of mouth. The 46-year-old rides the Rapid to her job near the state Capitol, where she's a project specialist at the Department of Corrections. She first noticed people standing in the aisles about six months ago.
'Always on time'
"The buses have a good reputation. They're always on time - always," Webb said. "They're comfortable, the air-conditioner works, and they give me a chance to catch (up) on my reading. And I don't have to put miles on my car."
The Ahwatukee park-and-ride lot fills quickly with all manner of cars, including a Jaguar or two along with the Hondas and family vans.
Perhaps the biggest boost to commuter buses has been gas prices.
"People who rode the bus in September when gas was $3 a gallon stayed with it," said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association. "In city after city after city, it's a pattern we're seeing. None of us knows if this is the start of a brand-new trend or another spike."
The Valley's rapid growth on the fringes also has fueled demand.
In recent months, officials from Anthem to Avondale to Pinal County have clamored for express lines. When the city of Surprise last fall asked for one ahead of schedule, Boggs, the RPTA director, worked out a deal with an out-of-state transit agency to get used vehicles fast. Within two months, Valley Metro had a bus on Grand Avenue, paid for by city money.
The household budget, with help from employers, also is driving demand.
A single Rapid or Express fare costs $1.75, 50 cents more than a local ride, or $51 for a monthly pass.
Brouillard, the east Chandler commuter, gets half off her monthly pass because her employer, JPMorgan, picks up the other half as part of a regional trip-reduction program to discourage solo drivers.
She saves about $1,900 in gas and parking, plus an additional $950 from wear and tear each year.
But that's not the biggest selling point. "I'll do anything to get in that HOV lane," Brouillard said.
By car, her 25-mile trip would take an hour, door to door. By bus, it's 45 minutes, including the drive to the park-and-ride lot.
Commuters still face many obstacles in making the bus system work for them.
Geoff Goodrich, 45, of northwest Phoenix, used to ride the 582 Express every day, going from the Metrocenter Mall to the Phoenix Art Museum, where he works as security chief.
But his work schedule changed. On weekends and later in the evening, he can't count on a bus. So, he rides it two or three days a week.
It's similar on other routes.
The last run of the evening for the Scottsdale Express, Route 512, leaves downtown Phoenix at 4:54 p.m. Because of traffic and distance, it doesn't reach the last stop at Palisades Boulevard until 6:23 p.m.
The Mesa Express, Route 540, pulls out of the Decatur Street stop at 4:50 a.m. but reaches downtown Phoenix until an "estimated" 5:40 a.m., according to the bus book, which advises passengers not to count on the schedule to make transfers.
Despite the limits, more commuters are giving it a try.
Goodrich said gas prices drove him to the bus at first, but after he began enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the paper on the way, he liked it.
"Even if it doesn't save me money, I'd still ride the bus just for the relaxation," he said. "Going home, there's not that hide-in-the-closet detox time after work. I do that on the bus."
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