Whenever you have large public projects, information can get cloudy. For METRO Light Rail, there has long been a challenge of providing service AND information.
Over the past few years, I have been to a LOT of public meetings at the Metro offices, city council chambers, schools, our Chamber of Commerce, etc. and I have heard hours upon hours of explanations and public input about line extensions, service hours, budget issues and other topics that might make some snore and others raise an eyebrow.
Given the current lack of sales tax revenue locally and nationally, there has been a lot of talk about cuts to public transportation services. In Tempe last night, I attended another public meeting to discuss bus and light rail service reductions. Some of the questions and comments from the audience were interesting in that they were from people that truly didn’t know what was going on. Heck, I know the feeling because I often feel like I don’t have a clue as to what is happening.
One man commented that the elimination of the 5am service would make it much more difficult for him to get to work. The question/comment was answered by further explaining that they do not intend to eliminate those hours, they are talking about changing the frequency of the trains.
Another person asked why Metro seemed to be so greedy that they were just in it to make money. Seriously. The comment sounded like he thought the system was designed to be a revenue source instead of a public service. A spokesperson tried to clarify it by comparing it with other public services such as parks, libraries, freeways, etc.
Another person asked “have you ever done a survey to see how many people ride the light rail for free?” Apparently he heard that people often ride for free. There were Metro employees on hand to answer questions from the audience, and this question was answered with a statistic that shows less than 1% of riders ride for free. The question then was “how often do you check” which was answered with information concerning the 60+ fare inspectors and 100k+ inspections performed per month. I thought the conversation was interesting in that, someone suggested each person should/could be checked. Sounds like that kind of policing would be cost and time prohibitive, but I have a feeling people will bring this one up again ( and again) in future meetings.
The service cuts proposed during the first phase of these public meetings were shown in graphs, and it is clear that Tempe residents do not want Sunday bus service eliminated while many were not as concerned with eliminating some lower performing bus routes. The elimination of late night or “night rail” service hours on the weekend was in the middle of the pack when looking at a chart of highest to lowest opposition to cuts.
One of the other things that confuses people is the fact that there are actually three cities involved in deciding the light rail portion of service changes. I believe Phoenix has the most ‘votes’ as they have the largest section of track. Undoubtedly, there is going to be politics and posturing involved in any changes. These things are fun to follow but I must admit, it can be hard to keep up. Hopefully, Metro and the cities will continue to provide good information so that we can continue to share the ride…
If you want to give your .02 to Tempe about potential service cuts, there is a public input form on their site. Please fill it out!
Unfortunately the Light Rail was based on the the Honor System…and as we can see, honor is a commodity that the Valley seems to be lacking in right now. But there are systems that can be put into place to help eliminate the free rides.
The first of which could be a simple extension of the RFID that is used to perform ticket checks for those that have the METRO passes and ASU passes. By extending the reach of the system by about 3 feet, passengers would pay their fee without having to swipe their cards. Customs and Border Protection Inspectors have recently been issued similar equipment to access photographs and biographical information before a citizen even gets to the inspection point using RFID technology.
Secondly, a turnstile system would allow passengers to either have their tickets scanned automatically or force them to purchase a ticket. This solves two major problems with the Light Rail. For anyone who has used the trains after 9 pm, they know that security is lacking. This ensures that people who shouldn’t be on the platforms are not there. The security force can be diminished and they can focus on the safety of passengers instead of playing ticket taker.