I’ll preface this with my comment that I’m a strong supporter of the light rail initiative for the Phoenix metro area. I’ve seen how urban trains and subways alter the cities (in generally good ways) that they pass through, and, while Phoenix is a ghastly urban sprawl with few “destination” areas, it could certainly use a bit of consolidation.
While a supporter of the light rail, and even though I only live one mile from the nearest station, I’m not likely a frequent rider. My work is not really near the line, I virtually never have any desire whatsoever to go into downtown Phoenix. We don’t have Cricket in this country and I don’t do the other sports. Once in a while I might want to go downtown for the Asian festival, or perhaps a show at the Arena (such as when the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs was here). I don’t attend classes at Arizona State and if I did they probably wouldn’t be at the Tempe campus anyway. There might be something going on (like Fourth of July celebrations) at Steele Indian School Park or Tempe Town Lake that would warrant not being able to drive there. Someday when they extend it into Mesa, I could see visiting the Arizona Museum of Natural History (Mesa Southwest Museum.)
For now, though, for me, it’s mostly a curiosity and something that I hope causes things to start sprouting up around the stations. The Time Lords know we could use some build up around 19th/Camelback.
For the remainder of the year, the rides are free, and the city has really pulled out the stops to get people to try the trains this weekend. Yesterday, the lines were outrageous at the end and west endpoint stations. Nearly two hours in line for the one hour ride, standing, falling-out-the-doors room only.
Today wasn’t so bad – or so I thought.
We caught the train at fourth station along the line from the west end. We chose to use the Park & Ride in the nicer area around Camelback and Central than either on 19th Avenue. The train was already at standing room only when we got on. Fortunately, somewhere not too far down the line two people vacated seats and I was able to thrust the kids into them.
The train itself runs nice and smoothly, the only hints of a rough ride occur as the train passes crossover points and even those are minor. The acceleration of the train is quick enough that you really do need to hang onto something if you’re standing.
The interiors are very reminiscent of the buses in town, which have the poorest seating arrangements I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it must have something to do with ADA requirements, but they make terrible use of space and there are a lot fewer seats than there could be. Other train systems handle disabled access with better seating arrangements, but the light rail here seems to have intentionally eschewed other tried and true arrangements to continue with the lousy city bus seating plan.
As for the ride across town itself – this left something to be desired. Of course, these were not typical days and, in retrospect, I think Valley Metro screwed up with these opening celebrations. People won’t be riding this thing end to end for the most part, but that’s what most everyone was doing this weekend, and,when the train is packed to standing room only, it’s miserable standing for an hour crowded together. In a real-world light rail scenario, people would be getting on and getting off regularly. This weekend people just kept getting on. With each stop the train just kept getting more and more unpleasantly crowded and you knew it wasn’t going to get any better until the very end of the line. (At one point I was dreaming that they’d all get off in the downtown area or at the Mill Ave shops, but it didn’t happen. I mean, why the hell would anybody want to go all the way to Sycamore and Main in Mesa? There’s nothing there, but to anticipate your question: We went that far because the Mekong Plaza is about 1/2 mile from the last stop, so we used this as an excuse to go back to Taiwan Food Express for lunch.)
There were lots of people this weekend riding the train – indeed any form of Phoenix metro public transit – for the first time, and it wasn’t the best first experience to cram them all in a sardine can for an hour, I should imagine.
So that’s not really a complaint about the train, more the nature of the startup. Perhaps people will be more understanding than I think, but people typically astound me with their lack of perception, so I doubt it. Just read the user comments at the Arizona Republic’s or ABC 15’s websites on most any news story (but especially about the light rail) if you want to see just how dumb people can get.
One other observation, and this one is a major flaw in the train system itself… although, perhaps they can right this one easily.
The train stops way too often at red lights.
I recognize the fact that any train system that travels down the middle of the roadways must stop at red lights. That’s inevitable and necessary, sometimes they have to stop at green lights – for example, this weekend I witness an idiot in a truck creep into a U-turn across the tracks. He was running a red left arrow and completely in the wrong; however, he was was stopped on the tracks as a train came up on him. The train honked and honked, but could do little other than stop for him. It turns out the nimrod wasn’t just in a truck, he was towing a second truck.
But there were times when the train was stopping at least one extra time for every station. The Valley Metro website used to respond to that question by saying the lights would be synchronized with the train. They sure as hell weren’t synchronized yesterday. We stopped at streets that were literally T-junctions, that didn’t even have any through traffic. The streets themselves were barely more than alleyways and, to add insult to injury, they had no traffic at all waiting at the lights. We were stopping for nothing – no traffic, no pedestrians nothing!. I can understand this sort of thing at major intersections and at busy times of the day, but many of these stops were ridiculous.
They’ve got to improve that. The train speed was very good in most places, but going down Central, starting about Indian School was too slow because of the traffic. it’s that stretch alone that will prevent me from being able to take the train and get to work in a timely fashion. To use the train, I’d have to travel 4 superfluous miles north-south, which, if they were quick, might still be faster than just taking a bus along the east-west route I need to follow to get to work. (Working on the assumption that I’d make up a lot of speed on the east-west leg.)
When we got to the last stop, we could see a huge line of people waiting to board the trains. They were keeping the crown controlled in a parking lot, filtering them across to the platform in small groups to fit on the train. It looked to be about an hour’s wait, so instead of taking the train back, we grabbed one of the “special” buses the city had laid on that were running parallel to the trains for the weekend. It was mainly designed for people who didn’t want to wait in line, and it was free, so we travelled, in comfort, sitting down the whole way back. It took the same amount of time the train ride did.
This week is rather messed up for me, but I may try to take the train just to time the ride. If not then next weekend.
This morning before 7, the stations were mostly empty along Central and the trains were less than half the seats full.