Phoenix launches its new light rail mass transit system
(Note: see similar post by tmlandy.)
The city of Phoenix, Arizona, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US over the last decade, has finally inaugurated its light rail mass transit system. Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the US, and had been the largest US city without a light rail system.
Light rail systems--sometimes referred to as streetcars or trolley cars--are electically-driven trains, typically of just one or two cars in length. Light rail systems operate at street level. Heavy rail systems, more commonly referred to as subways or elevated trains, are usually electrically-driven and operate in multiple-car trains, typically running underground or on elevated platforms. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), reports that there are approximately 25 cities in the US currently operating some sort of light rail for mass transit, and that approximately 40 cities either have proposals to expand existing light rail systems, or to build entirely new systems from the ground up.
PHOENIX (Reuters) - With a hearty "All Aboard," Phoenix launched a sleek new $1.4 billion light-rail system on Saturday amid uncertainty people will hop out of their cars and onto the train.
About 75 people became the first riders of the 20-mile (32-km) system that snakes through a sprawling desert metropolitan area that includes the cities of Tempe and Mesa.
Planners project building 30 additional miles of light-rail lines by 2025, but it has yet to be determined if the area's love of cars will trump trains.
"The novelty is going to wear off and you'll see whether it catches on or not," said Sam Mazzeo, 50, a mortgage broker who was at a downtown Phoenix light-rail station. "People use mass transit in other cities. You know, gas is not going to stay cheap forever."
Critics question whether enough people will be willing to switch from air-conditioned cars and trucks to the light-rail system where they will have to sweat out summertime waits at train stations. The average high temperature for Phoenix in July is 106 F (41 C).
Phoenix had been the largest U.S. city without a public rail transit system. The fifth-most populous U.S. city has about 1.6 million people, with more than 4 million in the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa area.
Phoenix's old trolley system shut down 60 years ago.
The economic crisis should encourage ridership, said Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.
"Everybody realizes that the days of three- or four-car families are a thing of the past," Gordon told Reuters. "We can no longer afford to do that."
Gordon said commuting by train was cheaper than car travel, reduced traffic congestion and helped cut auto emissions, which are linked to global warming.
Rides will be free until Thursday, the first day of 2009, when they will cost $1.25. A day pass will cost $2.50. Metro officials expect 26,000 boardings a day in 2009.
Other Western U.S. cities that built train systems in the past two decades include Dallas, Denver, Houston and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Plans for the system were first envisioned in the 1980s, but voters rejected several ballot measures before finally approving a sales tax to help finance light rail. Federal funds paid roughly half the cost.
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