PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION/Sales tax allows city to expand transit system
After three tries over the past 11 years, Phoenix passed a .4 percent sales tax in March 2000 to benefit its public transportation system, Valley Metro. The tax is expected to generate about $3 billion over 20 years to help fund improvements to infrastructure, bus and paratransit service, and construction of new light rail and bus rapid transit projects. The projects make up the Public Transit Department’s long-term Transit Plan that aims to create a comprehensive intermodal transit system for the city.
In August 2000, the department began using the sales tax revenue to improve its bus service. The department extended its weekday bus service to 10 p.m. and added service, which has been used by more than 22,000 people weekly, on Sundays. Also, the buses began running more frequently — now every 30 minutes on popular weekend routes. Those improvements have increased bus mileage by 20 percent, which means local buses now run 163,500 more miles monthly.
Last February, the department purchased 40 new vehicles for its paratransit service, Dial-A-Ride. The addition allowed the department to expand paratransit in-service hours by 50 percent and to extend evening hours.
In November, the department will further increase the frequency of bus service and will extend hours to midnight. The department also has ordered 96 new buses to replace older vehicles and to expand its fleet to 450 total buses.
“The improvements we’ve made are really tangible,” says Neal Manske, recently retired director of the Public Transit Department. “Service is better in spite of the fact that new buses have not yet been delivered. We’ve done with what we have.”
Besides providing improved bus service, the department is planning a bus rapid transit project that will provide frequent morning and evening service for commuters. Routes will originate in Phoenix and will operate on all major freeway corridors coming into the central business district.
The city also is participating in a multi-city light rail transit project that will include Tempe and Mesa. The project has used sales tax revenue to open the first of several community offices, to launch a Web site, to conduct more than 200 public and group meetings, and to meet one-on-one with key stakeholders.
On a smaller scale, Phoenix is launching the Neighborhood Circulator Service, which will provide shuttle service in the Ahwatukee Foothills. The pilot project will help the department determine whether to establish similar shuttle service in other parts of the city.
Phoenix also has used sales tax revenue to make some transportation infrastructure improvements. It has constructed 25 new bus pullouts, 63 bus shelters and 10 miles of bike lanes. In addition, the department is planning construction of a new transit center and four Park-n-Ride locations to add to its eight existing transit facilities.