Friday, March 27, 2009

Phoenix METRO

On my recent visit to Phoenix, I was able to ride and experience first-hand the METRO light rail system.

The system planning began around the year 2000, spearheaded by the mayor, and cost 1.2B to plan and construct. The entire system opened for operation, at once, in December 2008.
The east and west tracks run side-by-side for most of the system, in the median or on the shoulder of city streets. In the downtown section, the tracks separate so as not to congest the streets. The tracks crossover near each terminal at east and west ends of the system to prepare for the return trip. A spare train is available beyond the east and west terminals in case any of the trains break down. There are plans for future growth to the west of downturn, and a spur into the airport.

There are a total of 28 stations in the system with stops at the major points of interest: the stadium and science center in the downtown, the cultural and arts district, near the zoo and botanical gardens, the Arizona State University campus, and residential areas of Tempe and Mesa to the east. Free park and ride lots are offered at quite a few of the stations. 10 minutes between trains is advertised and about what I experienced. End to end time is variously listed as 50 to 60 minutes, but I can't vouch for that.

The trains are powered electrically by overhead wire, consist of two cars each and appear to be Japanese in design and manufacture, but I may be wrong on this. A bicycle icon on the outside of one of the cars, leads bike riders to the doors that give immediate access to a cordoned off portion of a car where bikes may be hung. The remainder of the cars offer comfortable seating for perhaps 60 riders each.

Each station has been designed and constructed with an eye to making the wait and riding experience pleasant. There is seating available for a small number of waiting riders, unique artwork to please the eye, and water fountains to quench. There is a minimal gap between the platform and car for safety.

The system is very inexpensive to use. I was able to ride all day for $2.50 with unlimited stops. Talk about a bargain! Single ride tickets are available for $1.50 and monthly passes are available for $45.00. Here's the unique part: you purchase your ticket via kiosk and there are no turnstiles or ticket-takers before you board the train! Nor are there any conductors on the train to check your ticket! The system is run on the honor system but subject to random checking by transit officers. In the entire day I rode, I had my ticket checked just once near the downtown area. Very interesting idea--I suppose the revenues lost due to the number of riders without tickets, is less than the cost to provide conductors or turnstiles.

The system seems to be well-liked and well-used. Each train was full or almost full when I rode at different parts of the day, in and out of rush hour. I spoke with some senior citizens, and a business man and they expressed that it's been a success. There were some lamentations, however, about discussion to raise ticket prices.

The city of Phoenix and surrounding cities certainly have a treasure in their METRO light rail system! I'm a bit of a rail advocate, and this seems to be the way it should be done: free parking at park and ride stations, bike-friendly accommodations, unique artwork at every station to make the waiting interesting, and low-cost. What more could one possibly ask for?


John P. said...

We have a system at least as good as that one here in Baltimore, of which I can ride free. I'm for it, but I wouldn't want anyone in my family walking to the station alone without a handgun unfortunately.

Tony said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your light rail experience here in the Valley. As it turns out, METRO raised fares a buck since your visit, still cheaper than most cities.
The 'honor system' you talked about has been a huge debate here, many people criticized transit managers for the possible loss of revenue.
I absolutely love the light rail. Since the line opened, I've lived car free by choice. Doing so has opened my eyes up to so much of my surroundings that I never knew existed in my community. Nice to see another railfan - hope you come back!

tazio said...

There are a lot of places I haven't visited yet and I will definitely come back and most definitely use METRO again.

I forgot to mention that in the Mill Avenue area, I met someone who is part of a mass transit group of some sort, who are trying to build support for expansion, keeping fares low, etc. Not being from there, I didn't join, but I can see by this level of advocacy and engagement that there's a bright future ahead.