The Phoenix Light Rail system is a complete failure, right? Well, it must be, because a recent article in Forbes Magazine titled Urban Light Rail Fail tells us so. Whew, I’m glad to know it because so many people have clearly been mistaken here in sprawl city. We can now get back to driving on our federally subsidized freeways and roadways back to take a 150 mile a day commute, because driving that far is just so much fun. I mention the funding of roadways, because we often hear the argument from rail geeks that transportation systems in general don’t directly “make money.” Others argue that many fixed guideways or roads create demand for an area and ultimately mean other types of economic development for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Have you ever driven the Santan Loop? Do you remember what was there before the freeway? Neither do most people.
According to Urban Light Rail Fail and the Coyote blog:
- I could take all the money spent on the construction of the system and easily buy a Prius for every single daily rider, with money to spare
- I could take the annual operating deficits for light rail and buy each of these new Prius owners enough gas to drive 10,000 miles per year and still have money left over.
According to some, the failure of the Phoenix light rail appears to be focused around the system cost and the operating budget. While it is very hard to argue that $1.4 billion is a bargain for a train that arguably carries 20k people per day, the Forbes article contends that the approximate number of 40,000 trips per day is puffed “since most of those riders have two trips per day (one each direction) we can think of this as 20,000 people making a round trip each business day.” Note: The latest light rail boarding numbers for September 2010 were 44,577 per day according to METRO.
Oddly enough, championing small business rights appears to be an argument on both sides of the political spectrum. I see the Coyote bloggers and the transportation bloggers both talking about small business owners and their desire to be successful. Talk of getting people out of their cars and into the habit of using public transportation also creates a number of interesting discussions with both sides claiming victory.
Where ever you are politically, it is hard to look away from the change that has and continues to happen along the Central Corridor in Downtown Phoenix and in Tempe’s Mill Avenue District. In a horrible economy, there is excitement and there is growth, that most likely would not be as prevalent without the addition of light rail.
At a recent meeting with METRO, I heard their CEO, Steve Banta, mention $7.5 billion in economic development. While I don’t have the studies for the actual dollars invested, anyone that has followed this project can tell that the Phoenix light rail system has had a positive impact on business and on homes near the light rail line. While buying a Prius might be a cute idea, I wonder how many businesses would open because of the purchase or how much tax revenue would be created from these lucky drivers. It seems like making it easier for people to spend money on a lifestyle instead of a gas card has a few benefits that are hard for some to quantify.
Sean S says
Running such an illogical, misleading, and half-researched article as that has made me lose all respect for Forbes.
Derek Neighbors says
While I think that from a cost perspective our light rail has been a dismal failure. We made bad choices about it’s pathing. We over paid for it’s cost. Baltimore MD, Camden NJ, Sacramento CA, and Salt Lake City UT all were under $20 million per mile. We paid about $70 million per mile.
We can’t undo the craptaculous choices that have been made to date, but going forward we can be smarter about how we solve our transit issues.
Rail Life says
It seems like they kind of lucked out with ASU building the Phoenix campus. When the original projections were done, I don’t believe the large number of students were factored highly into the equation. Personally, I like the route as I have enjoyed trying places downtown and along Central that I probably would not have without rail. ( maizie’s is an example )
I also like the ability to get to the arenas, Sun Devil Stadium etc.
I am curious to know where your preferred route choice would have been.
Derek Neighbors says
Let me say that in many ways it has been successful in renewing economic development and changing the culture to look towards urban renewal.
Fiscally successful or not, the Light Rail isn’t going to be shut down, torn up or replaced any time soon.
Instead of spending ANY time debating whether it was planned well or should exist, it’s time to treat it as a sunk cost and move forward on making it as attractive as possible.
Going to a game? It’s STILL easier and cheaper than parking. Bar crawl? Sweet. Student? Even better. Business owner, developer or person with ideas? Start building along the light rail.
So Phoenix wanted the govt to pay for their commute and got the light rail. Do we also expect someone else to develop along it too? Perhaps we can hire some architects from Seattle to build a shopping center and then bitch about that, too.