It has been less than a year since METRO hired CEO Steve Banta. During that time, several changes have been implemented and many more appear to be coming in the future for the Phoenix light rail system. While light rail collisions are down, there is a new safety campaign underway. While sales tax revenues are low, businesses continue to open and thrive along the line. Below is an editorial put out by METRO as authored by Mr. Banta. It gives some great insight on many aspects of his job, his vision, and on the entire transportation system in our region.
Creating a Total Transit Network
Stephen R. Banta, METRO CEO
Sustainability and livability are common terms these days and used in everyday dialogue. This is encouraging for the benefit it will bring, not only to the public transit rider, but our region and future generations.
In my profession of public transportation, sustainability and livability have taken on a new focus. A well-executed public transportation system contributes to how people choose to live, work and play. The 20-mile METRO light rail line is a great example. People are choosing light rail as a means of transportation in greater numbers than projected. Additionally, each month this year has seen higher ridership than the same month last year. Businesses are popping up along the line and residents are making choices for where they live based on accessibility to transit.
Light rail and bus service are just the start of what our region needs to keep pace with growth. It is critical to keep building an effective transit system that provides residents with the options to leave their car behind on occasion or all week. I term this effective system as the “total transit network.” The total transit network is many modes working in concert to support regional growth and provide mobility choices.
I’ve seen and managed total transit networks in my past experiences with some of the largest public transit agencies in the U.S. It is the integration and coordination of local and express bus, light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcar, commuter rail and an overlay of a robust paratransit system that provides accessibility to all. It is an interconnected system that serves the region’s urban core and also provides options to those that live outside the core. It is what we need to support our growing population and enhance our economic viability. And even in this economy, we have to continue building in smaller segments with the total transit network in mind.
The Regional Transportation Plan contains the next steps in the total transit network with the building of 37 additional miles of high-capacity transit. The Central Mesa and Tempe South extensions are on the immediate horizon.
Central Mesa has completed planning to determine that it will be light rail on Main Street to Mesa Drive by 2016. The Federal Transit Administration has approved, with high marks, the project’s entrance into design; construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.
The Tempe South project is nearing a recommendation on the transit option to move forward into design, construction and ultimately operation in 2016. A modern streetcar in a Mill-Ash Avenue loop terminating at Southern Avenue is the highest-performing alternative in this study. If approved, this would be the region’s first introduction to streetcar.
Streetcar has a unique ability of strengthening a downtown core, providing greater neighborhood connectivity and stimulating higher-density, urban development. I’ve seen its success as a public transit option and economic development generator during my time with TriMet, the regional transit agency in Portland, OR. Streetcar working in conjunction with other modes is a next step in developing the total transit network.
The value of streetcar, or any new mode, is what it brings to the regional transit network and the livability of our communities. With each new corridor, we are taking a step towards building a total transit network that enhances regional mobility, supports and creates future growth and, most importantly, makes transit trips easier and more convenient for you, the customer.
For more information on METRO’s extension plan, please visit www.metrolightrail.org. The Regional Transportation Plan is also available online at www.azmag.gov.
About Stephen R. Banta
Stephen R. Banta joined Valley Metro Rail, Inc. (dba METRO light rail) in January 2010 as the Chief Executive Officer. He has served in the public transit industry for 25 years, starting his career repairing rail cars in San Diego to previously working as the Executive Director of Operations of the seventh largest transit system in America, TriMet, in Portland. He has worked in progressively important positions in operations for several public transit agencies, including in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Dallas and Pittsburgh.
Most recently, as the Executive Director of Operations for TriMet, Banta oversaw a system responsible for more than 350,000 trips each weekday and consisting of 52 miles of light rail, 14.7 miles of commuter rail, 81 bus lines and an extensive paratransit system. His keys to success include building a supportive environment for employees, a commitment to keeping equipment and facilities in a state of good repair, an unrelenting focus on the customer and a strong relationship with stakeholders who have invested interests in the growth and development of the community.
A central part of his commitment to the customer experience is Banta’s choice to use the transit system. He believes that the single most important aspect of leading a transit agency is having an understanding and appreciation for the “view through the windshield.” His extensive project start-up experience, combined with a deep working knowledge of bus and rail operations will help METRO maintain a customer focus while expanding into new services.
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