Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 31, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Fueling Trouble


  • We continue our four-part series on what impact high gas prices are having on transportation with a look at light rail and bus transit. Susan Tierney of Valley Metro talks about bus service.
Guests:
  • Susan Tierney - Public Information Officer, Valley Metro
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: energy,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Bank accounts continue to take a beating from the high price of gas. The rising cost of fuel is bad for our budgets but not so bad for mass transit. We conclude our series fueling trouble with a look at how prices at the pumps are driving people to the buses of today and the trains of tomorrow. I'll talk with someone from the Valley's bus company in a moment, but first David Majure and photographer David Riffle take us aboard another form of mass transit that's on track to open to the public before the end of the year.

David Majure:
As CEO of Metro Light Rail, Rick Simonetta has a reason to like the high price of gas.

Rick Simonetta:
You know, I feel for everyone, but it has really created a tremendous demand for public transportation.

David Majure:
With fuel prices as high as they are, the timing couldn't be better to roll out light rail.

Rick Simonetta:
This is going to be perfectly timed and we really expect our ridership to be much, much higher than what we originally anticipated and that's certainly good.

David Majure:
You're starting to see more of the Metro around town as the trains are tested. They won't officially start taking passengers until the end of December.

Rick Simonetta:
A train will be coming by every 10 minutes.

David Majure:
But Simonetta gave us a preview of what it will be like to ride light rail.

Rick Simonetta:
Normally during the rush hour when you have lots of people, the operator is going to open all the doors, but at night you might have to push a button and open the door yourself. We got a train coming here, I think she's probably going to open all the doors, so we'll see what happens and we'll board. Light rail vehicle can carry up to 200 passengers, 66 seats, so a number of people will be able to sit. We have the capacity to really move large numbers of people and that's one of the real advantages of light rail. We can accommodate wheelchairs, we can accommodate bicycles, and this is what we call our articulated section. This is the middle of the train where we can make turns and so on. So you can see up here there are two positions for bicycles, so the bikes will hang down, and there's a bike notation there. The vehicles are low floor vehicles, so they're easy to access from the station platforms. There's no differential, so you can roll a bicycle, a wheelchair, a baby carriage, right on to the vehicle.

Automated Voice:
Thank you for riding the Metro.

Rick Simonetta:
The vehicles are very secure. We have cameras that are continuous recording that will cover virtually every square foot of the space in the vehicle. If a person wants to talk to the operator, there are push to talk buttons, and once the passenger pushes the button, it will give the signal to the operator and it will also direct one of our cameras to focus in on this location so the operator will be able to actually see the person and see if the person needs some assistance. The fare on light rail is going to be $1.25, the same as it has been for the last 14 years to ride a local bus in the city of Phoenix or in Tempe. You can't get on the train without paying a fare, but when you're encountered by a fare inspector and you don't have proof of payment you'll be given a citation, and that citation will require you to pay a fine. We have very robust air conditioners, so that even in our 113 degree temperatures, we'll be able to keep people cool. One of the real strong features about light rail is that because we're operating in our own guideway, we can predict exactly when trains are going to arrive at a particular place and how long it's going to take. You're going to be able to get from point A to point B in a very reliable, predictable time.

Ted Simons:
Joining me now to talk about how light rail fits with the Valley's bus service and why the high price of gas may benefit both is Susan Tierney, the Public Information Officer for Valley Metro. Susan, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Susan Tierney:
Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons:
How are bus lines and routes now being looked at with light rail coming on?

Susan Tierney:
Well, that's a great question, and I think it's a popular question because a lot of people are asking that. They are seeing those trains going by on the train tracks. Actually we've been working on this for over two years, planning the bus routes to connect to the Metro and it works really simply because fortunately we already have a grid system here in the Valley, so buses are going to deviate up to a mile and a half to connect to all 28 stations that are along the 20-mile segment.

Ted Simons:
Does that mean adding routes? Does it mean rerouting? How is that going to work? Are some folks maybe going to lose their favorite trip?

Susan Tierney:
No, I don't think so. I think that some buses will actually be able to still pick up people that they need to and still serve the station. So it's being able to accommodate the majority of the riders that are along that street.

Ted Simons:
As far as fares are concerned, again, you get a light rail pass that works for the bus that day?

Susan Tierney:
Right. We actually adjusted our fares last December. And what that means is if you buy an all-day pass, it's $2.50 for a regular fare and you can transfer back and forth from bus to light rail all day long, as long as the bus and light rail are operating. It's $1.25 for one trip. But for the all-day pass it's very economical to be able to transfer back and forth.

Ted Simons:
Let's get to buses specifically now. Because our series deals with fuel prices and how that's changing the nature of transportation. How's it changing the nature of bus service?

Susan Tierney:
You know, we're really popular right now. And it's great because I think we're seeing a shift in attitude, and people are becoming more accepting of public transportation and we're actually rolling out more service and so it's been exciting to see more ridership, especially in those commuter express buses that are serving our major activity centers such as downtown.

Ted Simons:
Is it a challenge to keep up with demand?

Susan Tierney:
It is a challenge, absolutely. It's a challenge because, you know, people - everybody wants a seat. But when you pay a fare, it doesn't necessarily guarantee you a seat. It does guarantee you passage on that vehicle, so some people are standing and that's kind of a new thing here in the Valley. People aren't used to that. So it's a little different than what we're used to.

Ted Simons:
With that in mind, are there again new routes because of increased ridership?

Susan Tierney:
You know, we have new routes that we introduced actually just a few days ago, and we have new routes that are programmed out for the next 20 years, and that's a part of the Proposition 400, the half cent sales tax that was extended in 2004. So there are residents all over the Valley that have that to look forward to. We started new bus service from Goodyear to downtown, from North Glendale to downtown, from Mesa to downtown, and between Scottsdale and Chandler along the Loop 101 where we've never had bus service before.

Ted Simons:
Talk more if you can about Prop 400 and the sales tax revenue and how that plays into what you guys can do.

Susan Tierney:
You know, it's only one funding component. There's several here in the Valley. Phoenix has a dedicated sales tax through their city, Tempe does as well, Glendale, Mesa. But that doesn't cover everything, and so what Prop 400 does is it really provides regional service, and then it connects with those city taxes to provide a more comprehensive transit system.

Ted Simons:
Valley Metro we talk about buses and we talk about alternatives to driving with the fuel prices the way they are, there's also car pooling which is out there, and I'm imagining you're seeing more of that as well.

Susan Tierney:
You know, car pooling, we've had a match list on our website for many, many years, but all at once it's just been very dramatic what we've seen, a lot of interest. In fact, over the past, when we compare June of '08 to June of '07 we saw about a 380\% increase in people wanting to find a car pool partner or get into an existing van pool van.

Ted Simons:
And this is something that again they can go to Valley Metro and helps them figure that out.

Susan Tierney:
Right. All they have to do is go to our website and they're going to put in their origin, their destination, and the times of day that they travel. And then they're going to be responsible for calling the person on that list that they receive to try to arrange a car pool.

Ted Simons:
Talk if you can, I know, again back to the fuel prices and I know you've mentioned how Valley Metro's adjusting in these sorts of things, was there a bit of a shock though when the prices hit relatively quickly and all of a sudden here you got a bunch of riders - a bunch of new folks who needed to figure out how to ride a bus?

Susan Tierney:
You know, I don't think it was too much of a shock for us. Our drivers are very helpful. They're very good at helping people that have never paid a fare, and we do have a great website that's like a tutorial, it will walk people through all the steps and the fare amounts and what it takes. You know, the other good thing that too is once you have ridden the bus, you become an expert, and there's plenty of people on the bus to help you and people are always willing to help you out. So it's kind of your own little community. So I think it's been, you know, a good experience for most people.

Ted Simons:
Alright well, very good. Susan, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Susan Tierney:
Thank you.

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