Public transport in Phoenix

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Public transportation in Phoenix, Arizona consists primarily of buses, a 20-mile (32 km) light rail system and minor additional services. Most transit services run under the name Valley Metro; local cities, counties and other agencies in the Phoenix area have agreed to use the Valley Metro name. Public transport in the Greater Metro Phoenix Area exists in a number of modes: local, express and RAPID commuter buses; neighborhood circulators[clarification needed]; dial-a-ride; vanpool service; an online carpool-matching system and METRO light rail.

History[edit]

From its founding in 1867 as a farming and ranching community, Phoenix relied on horseback travel and stagecoaches for transportation. A scheduled stagecoach line was implemented along Washington Street, the community's main east-west artery for most of its early history, in 1887 by businessman Moses Sherman. Service was expanded, and a fully electrified system of streetcars was in place a few years later. This system was the Phoenix Street Railway. Financial problems became serious enough for Sherman to sell the company to the city government in the 1920s. New investment by the city expanded both streetcar and bus service and several private bus lines were also in place. A fire destroyed most of the streetcars in 1947, and the city decided to focus on buses as the means of providing public transit.[1]

Like other cities in the western United States, Phoenix grew into a large city during the automotive era. The city's initial transportation plan was the use of "super-streets" laid out in a grid plan developed along section lines. When this did not work as planned, the city began building a freeway network during the 1980s. Despite the transportation problems, public transport was not seriously considered to solve the city's traffic problems until the 1990s. Throughout the 1990s, Phoenix was repeatedly chosen as having the worst public transport among US cities.[citation needed]

In 1985, the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA) was created through a law passed by the Arizona State Legislature. This law enabled the citizens of Maricopa County to vote on a sales-tax increase which would fund regional freeway improvements and create the RPTA. In October of that year, Maricopa County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund freeway construction with a portion (or $5 million per year, adjusted annually for inflation) as seed money for regional-transit-service expansion. The RPTA received this funding through 2005 and was charged with developing a regional transit plan, finding a dedicated funding source for transit, and developing and operating a regional transit system.

The population of the greater Phoenix area is projected to grow by 50 percent. To enable transportation of new residents throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area a 26-member citizens' transit committee (with the support of the mayor and the city council) met, and a public-transit plan was formulated. The right to organize was initiated by city-council members who were also community members. The public-transit plan was implemented on March 14, 2000, and called for expansion of the bus system and light-rail service. In addition to the committee, public input was fundamental to the plan's execution; surveys were conducted, and 10 public meetings were held throughout the city. The survey was given to 48,000 households, chosen at random, included with the residents' water bills; 3,600 residents responded.

In 2004, Maricopa County residents extended the half-cent county sales tax originally authorized in 1985. The tax allocates over one-third of tax revenues ($5.8 billion before inflation) for transit, including light rail. The city has dramatically expanded its public transportation services early in the 21st century, including the opening of a light-rail line in 2008.

Common resource[edit]

Based in the environment of Metro Phoenix, public transportation is configured to affect the interactions between transportation, transportation users, infrastructure providers and infrastructure. Public transportation will only succeed if transportation matches the needs of riders. The creation of collective-choice arrangements such as vanpools and the online carpool-matching system will be a good fit for Phoenix. Monitoring its use will keep transportation in needed areas, and observing transportation-use patterns will keep the system running smoothly. "Nested units" (concerned citizens) will continue to guarantee that needed ideas (such as neighborhood circulators) continue to help connect neighborhoods to main routes.

Service area[edit]

Under the Valley Metro name, local governments united to fund the valley-wide transit system. Valley Metro Board member agencies include Avondale, Chandler, El Mirage, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Maricopa County, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Queen Creek, the Regional Public Transportation Authority (Valley Metro RPTA), Scottsdale, Surprise and Tempe.

Issues[edit]

Graph of number of workers using public transport in the US and average commute time for major cities
Percentage of workers using public transportation for their commute and the mean travel time for major cities in the United States in 2006

One dilemma in Phoenix’s public-transport system is the start-up costs of outward expansion and the effect it has on municipalities. While Valley Metro states that its vision is to “enable people in Maricopa County to travel with ease using safe, accessible, efficient, dependable, and integrated public transportation services”,[2] it only covers the major cities toward the center of the valley. Towns such as Buckeye, Cave Creek and Laveen are localities in Maricopa County which are omitted from Valley Metro’s routes; people living in these areas must commute miles to the nearest bus stops in surrounding cities. This leads to inconsistency between tax revenue and service provision. To obtain a better fit between the system and the people it serves, it must expand routes outward to make its services available to a larger percentage of the population it was created to serve.

A problem with expanding routes outward to include more rural areas of Maricopa County is determining whether there is enough interest from residents in outlying areas to justify expansion. If too few people are willing to use the services they can be costly, deterring outward expansion. One solution is to gauge interest in public transportation in these areas and, if plausible, expand current routes. If there is interest in public transportation (but not enough to justify expanding current routes), it may be feasible to create areas on the edges of town for people in outlying areas to commute and park their vehicles. Such services only exist in the inner part of the valley.

Collective-choice arrangements[edit]

There are several examples of collective-choice arrangements in local public transportation.

Vanpool system[edit]

The vanpool system is provided by Phoenix Metro’s Regional Public Transit Authority (Valley Metro). The aim is to give commuters an alternative to individual driving or fixed-route buses. Any group of 5 to 15 commuters may use a Valley Metro van, paying a monthly fee which covers gas, insurance and maintenance.[3]

In each group, one commuter volunteers to be the driver who must meet the following requirements:

  • At least 25 years old
  • Have a valid driver’s license
  • Have a good credit rating
  • No DUI/DWI, at-fault accidents or hit-and-run citations

Valley Metro facilitates this system by providing the van and parking; it is up to the commuters within a group to decide on the operating rules. These include when and where the van will pick up (and drop off) members, how long the van will wait and whether members can smoke or eat on board.

Valley Metro suggests areas where van commuters can create rules, but it is up to the groups to address and resolve issues important to them. If an arrangement is unsatisfactory, members may leave their group and join another one; they are required to submit written notice 30 days before leaving, or they will be charged the following month’s fee. Valley Metro recognizes the freedom of vanpools to create their own rules, interfering as little as possible. The aim of this policy is to encourage vanpool groups to create a culture that suits them.

Dial-A-Ride[edit]

The city of Surprise is not part of the Phoenix Metropolitan Bus line or a destination for the new light-rail system. However, the public is able to use Dial-A-Ride (similar to taxi service) to get from their homes in Surprise to a destination in Surprise or to the Phoenix Metro Bus stop at 111th and Grand Avenue. Dial-A-Ride was originally limited to citizens classified as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; the city extended the service, first to citizens over the age of 65 and then to the general public (with proof of residence in Surprise).[4]

Arizona State University U-Pass[edit]

In 2005 Arizona State University launched a free pilot program, the ASU U-Pass, for ASU students, faculty and staff which provided unlimited access to the Valley Metro bus system. The program was subsidized by ASU's Parking and Transit Services department. The pass is now offered at a discount rate to ASU students, faculty and staff for unlimited rides on the Valley Metro bus system and the METRO light-rail system. With the opening of light rail, the U-Pass facilitates travel between the ASU Downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses.[5]

Monitoring[edit]

The Phoenix public-transportation system is monitored for safety and cost at the federal, state, and local level. Safety, monetary issues and improvement of the system are reported to all jurisdictions, and the metro system is required to comply with United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Arizona motor-vehicle policies.

The following rules are enforced on Phoenix public transportation:

  • Eating and smoking are not allowed on the bus. Drinking is allowed if the drink is in an approved, covered plastic container.
  • Caustic or flammable materials are not allowed on board.
  • Service animals trained to assist persons with disabilities are welcome; other pets must be kept in a secure carrier.
  • Fighting, throwing, pushing, playing loud radios or stereos, rough behavior, shouting, and vulgar language are not allowed.
  • Littering is not allowed. A trash container is available at the front of each bus.
  • Scratching the windows of the bus is forbidden. Passengers are encouraged to report any acts of vandalism to the driver.
  • A responsible person (who can directly control and supervise the child) must accompany children under age eight wishing to travel on Valley Metro fixed routes.

Graduated penalties[edit]

Graduated penalties (in the form of fines) play a role in Phoenix public transport.[6] The sanction imposed depends on the seriousness and the context of the offense.[7] In public transportation, sanctioning may be in the form of not being permitted to use the transportation. If a passenger does not comply with the operational rules of safety while aboard the public-transit system, then they may be asked to leave. Depending on the severity of the infraction, a person may be banned from public transportation altogether.

Conflict resolution[edit]

In accordance with federal standards, all regional transit providers are trained in processing, investigating and documentating passenger complaints involving discrimination based on disability, race, color or national origin.[8][9] The Phoenix Public Transit Department monitors the complaint process and completed reports (which may also apply to service frequency, vehicle age and quality and bus-stop quality). All complaints received by the customer-relations department are documented and assigned to the appropriate transit staff for investigation. After the complaint is processed a response is sent to the customer who filed the complaint, and appropriate corrective action is taken.[10] The right to organize is recognized.

Related programs[edit]

Friends of Transit[edit]

Friends of Transit seeks to educate the greater Phoenix community about the benefits of a well-designed and accessible mass-transit system, an important part of a balanced regional-transportation plan. Community leaders identified a continuing need to educate the public about the benefits of the voter-approved plans for a comprehensive transit system (in particular, because some elements of the program will not be implemented for several years after approval).[11]

School-bus safety[edit]

The Arizona Department of Public Safety has implemented a Student Transportation Unit to educate parents on a safety program for children who travel by school bus. Children need to be safe pedestrians as they walk to and from the bus, and safe riders on the bus. For the sake of the driver, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure their student(s) follow(s) procedures for getting ready for school, waiting at the bus stop, getting on and off the bus and riding the bus.[12]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]