Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 2, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Light Rail Update


  • METRO Light Rail CEO Rick Simonetta provides an update on light rail operations including the impact of the recent fare increase, extended hours, and the start of ASU’s fall semester.
Guests:
  • Rick Simonetta - METRO Light Rail CEO
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: light rail,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Since we last spoke with officials from metro light rail, rates have been raised and hours extended. To find out how that's all working out earlier this evening I spoke with metro light rail C.E.O. Rick Simonetta. Good to have I on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Rick Simonetta:
Nice to be here, Ted.

Ted Simons:
Give us the latest ridership numbers.

Rick Simonetta:
August ridership, July was the low point during the heat of the summer; it's typical on the bus system as well as on light rail, and July we got down to just over 26,500 average weekday passengers, average daily passengers, but in August the number is now up over 33,000. So I contribute that or I attribute that to school being back in session and ASU coming back into session.

Ted Simons:
I want to get into ASU a little more in a second. I know you just completed a survey and it's just been released as far as who is riding light rail. Who is riding light rail?

Rick Simonetta:
It's interesting. Most people any light rail would be for people going to work, that that would be the predominant use of light rail. In fact, that's not the case and most predominant use of light rail is for just going to other activities, either going home from activities or going from home to activities. Doesn't include going to ASU, it includes going through k through 12 school or movie or shopping or museum, all kinds of purposes.

Ted Simons:
Were those results surprising?

Rick Simonetta:
They were, another surprising finding, 45% of the people who use light rail walk to light rail, so they are within walking distance. And another interesting finding was that 35% of the people using light rail never rode transit before light rail opened, so those are all brand new people that and I think 90% of them had automobiles, one or two automobiles. So we've got a lot of shifting of transportation modes, I hope that means we're cleaning up the air and we're reducing congestion.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned ASU, students this go round are going to have to pay and are paying as opposed to last year when they kind of got to go for free. How is that affecting numbers?

Rick Simonetta:
Well, that's certainly not preventing students and faculty from taking advantage of what light rail has to offer. To date over 9,000 passes have been sold for this first semester. And last year of course when someone started school, they had the option of either buying a parking pass or buying a transit pass when there wasn't light rail, and we believe that with light rail, you know, being up and operational and many of the students having experienced it last spring, that we're going to see much, much bigger numbers.

Ted Simons:
Rate increases in general, how's it affecting ridership overall and what kind of rate increases are we talking about here?

Rick Simonetta:
Well, on July 1st, a 40% increase in the base fare went into effect. Base fare went from $1.25 to $1.75. I'm sure it has impacted ridership because we don't have any history of what we did, you know, the July before, because we weren't in service, we can't really say what the impact is. The revenue is good. We're actually seeing more fare box revenue which is what the objective was and it's making us recover expenses from fares being paid. But looking at the August numbers that I mention over 33%, I'm not sure the fare increase will have a negative impact.

Ted Simons:
And Suns tickets and concerts at U.S. airways arena, talk to us about that.

Rick Simonetta:
Well, when we started up last winter the suns were in the middle of their season and many people started using light rail to get to the suns games. The U.S. airways center has a lot procedure going on than just the suns, so we've been in discussions with them for the past several months to talk about a way that a ticket that is scanned into the system there for an event will also be good prior to that event for a ride on light rail, getting to the event and getting home afterwards. So we have reached an agreement with them, it's going to go into effect October 1st. It's a one-year pilot project. They're very excited about it. We're very excited about it. We hope that lots and lots of people who go to the suns games and go to other activities at the U.S. airways center are going to get there and home by light rail.

Ted Simons:
Will there be a surcharge on tickets for the transportation?

Rick Simonetta:
That was part of what they did. They added a small surcharge and we get paid a certain amount of money for every ticket that is scanned, in other words, for everyone who actually does attend the event. So it's a good deal for both of us and really the cost to the user is very, very nominal because of the arrangement we have.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned Arizona State University back in session, ridership obviously up. You got a football game or we got a football game, we all have a football game coming up this weekend in Tempe. First real football weekend with light rail, although the Obama visit, the presidential visit kind of laid the ground work, did it not?

Rick Simonetta:
We know that we've got good access from two stations to the stadium. We carried about 35,000 people around that event when the president was in town speaking at the commencement ceremony. We don't know what the first football game is going to bring, but we're prepared. We're going to have every piece of equipment out there and all the operators that we have. We encourage people to take light rail to the game. It's certainly a quick way in and out without worrying about parking and traffic and woe want to see the sun devils win as well.

Ted Simons:
Couple more questions. Is advertising still on schedule, on trains? In stations? Both?

Rick Simonetta:
Yes, both, and in fact both inside the trains and outside of the trains, we awarded a contract, a month or two ago, and the process is under way for that sales agent to try to find interested businesses to do the advertising. So they're in the process right now of doing that. This is a very tough economy, and we learn that a lot of people have really scaled down their marketing budget so it's not the greatest time to start this. But we need the revenue. We're looking for revenue anywhere we can get it. Last year during the all-star game we had a few trains, cars that were wrapped, looked like a moving billboard the entire train had a message on it. We think that would judge rate the maximum amount of revenue. It's possible for someone to do advertising at our stations and we're going to have some advertising for whoever wraps a train, to do some inside advertising generally on the floor. We're also interested in pursuing flat screen TVs inside each of the cars so that people can see, you know, public service messages, weather, stock, and then also some advertising.

Ted Simons:
And I was going to say real quickly here, naming rights a possibility for stations as well?

Rick Simonetta:
We're looking for every way to generate revenue, and the concept of naming rights is starting to trickle into the transit industry, there are a couple of examples around the country where it seems to have worked. So we are right now out for proposals to have companies come in and try to manage whole business of seeing if we can sell naming rights.

Ted Simons:
Question on accidents, leveling off, more, less?

Rick Simonetta:
Every season seems to be different. We have a dynamic population here. There are always people coming and going, for a number of reasons, got new ASU students coming into town, we have a lot of conventions and so on, so the accident rates may not taper off as they would in other places that are more stable. But right now we're averaging between four to five collisions a month, and thank goodness none of them have been serious, no one has been seriously injured and none of them have been preventable from metro's perspective. So we're having, you know, hit-and-runs and we're having all kinds of little things like that. It's a nuisance. It delays service for a few minutes. But we're doing all that we can to try to make sure our equipment is working well, the signals are working well, and the message is out there. Act safely around light rail.

Ted Simons:
Rick, good to have you on. Thanks for joining us.

Rick Simonetta:
Thank you.

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