NY Times writes false piece about success of our light rail

In typical liberal biased journalism, The New York Times ran an article a couple of days ago called “In Phoenix, Weekend Users Make Light Rail a Success.” It was a typical puff piece, claiming that light rail has been even more successful than envisioned.

But it conveniently omitted any of the negative information about light rail since it launched in January indicating that it’s NOT a success, which our local media has helpfully been reporting. Sales tax revenues have decreased (guess light rail hasn’t helped spur the economy as predicted) and so there is no money to expand it to the planned 57-mile network. Light rail lost $235,000 in revenues in February alone. According to Phoenix Metro, the lost revenue was due to “technology provided by a German computer plus the passengers who use the ‘smart cards’ to pay their fares.” Nationwide, transit companies everywhere have been suffering economically, so it is suspect that the New York Times claims Phoenix light rail is doing well. “Transit systems all across the country are having very severe financial challenges,” said Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the American Public Transit Association, a Washington-based lobbying group.

Without expanding light rail,  its range is fairly limited and will not reach any kind of potential or popularity. Right now it barely covers downtown to just past ASU barely to Mesa, and doesn’t go far enough north of downtown to reach anywhere like Glendale. That most important wing, to Glendale, is being put off for at least another three years.  Expansion to Paradise Valley is being put off until 2030.  Expansion into South Tempe has stopped. Scottsdale has withdrawn from participating, indicating there will be no expansion there.  Phoenix Metro admits that decreasing revenues have forced light rail to revise its original design as approved by voters, so to say it’s proven more of a success than envisioned is a flat out lie.

Light rail isn’t even the bargain it was envisioned to be. The costs of providing light rail increased way beyond estimates after it debuted, requiring significant hikes in fares. “Officials say the hike is due to a continual increase in the cost to provide service.” The fares increased dramatically soon after light rail debuted this year, on July 1, from $1.25 to $1.75 for a one-way pass and $2.50 to $3.50 for an all-day pass.  Some fares even more than doubled, with cash one-day onboard fees going from $3.50 to $7.25.

Perhaps  the most alarming news about light rail is that accidents have been increasing. Some of the reasons being looked at for the increasing number of crashes include confused motorists, improper procedures by train operators, defective safety equipment and systems, unclear intersection markings and signage, bike and pedestrian accidents including by ticketed riders, quick stops, insufficient security, and injuries suffered while loading or unloading. Trial lawyers are ready and waiting to file lawsuits, which will result in substantially increased costs.

Light rail is a big mistake for our commuter region. It is too late to try and build a comprehensive light rail system; not only is it too expensive, but there is no room to build, too many properties would need to be condemned. We are too spread out for it to be realistic. In a city where everyone lives on top of each other, like New York, mass transit was possible. But this is Arizona, and we’re becoming so spread out they refer to us as a smaller L.A. What an embarrassing legacy for Phoenix Democrat Mayor Phil Gordon – a failed mass transit system.


  1. And don’t forget ex-mayor Skip Rimsza. This ridiculous boondoggle started out as “Skippy’s Choo Choo”…

  2. Buses remain the best and most economical
    way to transport large groups of people.
    Their infrastructure is already in place: the public roads!!! Leah

  3. nightcrawler says

    You are wrong on this one Chewie. My only regret is not pushing my representatives hard enough for it to go into the Scottsdale hotel corridor. People are using it, especially ASU students. Sports venues are jumping on board. All of metro Phoenix needs to be served by this sensible solution.


    Buses are also good, more options are better than less. I’d much rather ride the train the bus. Many feel the same way.

  4. Nighcrawler: ASU students use it because it’s free for them.

    There is no sense in a solution that has a $15 per boarding subsidy.

    It’s bad. Don’t make it worse.

  5. Wolfy, ASU students do not ride free. Where do you get the $15 per boarding subsidy quote?

  6. State Rep. John Kavanagh says

    Still unanswered is whether or not the light rail ridership mostly consists of former car users and not just people who shifted from buses to light rail. After all, the stated purpose of light rail was to reduce congestion and pollution by getting folks out of cars. If a large portion of light rail’s ridership consists of bus transplants, all we did was switch people from a moderately subsidized venue to a highly subsidized one.

  7. Republican Observer says

    Good point, Rep. Kavanagh. Does anyone notice any decrease in traffic congestion on your commute to work? I don’t. Still seems to be getting gradually worse.

  8. Oops, the were free until this semester: now ASU students pay $40 a semester for unlimited rides. My bad. Google
    “light rail” and “subsidy” and you’ll have your pick of sources for the range of taxpayer subsidy figures per boarding.


  9. So let me get this right. Light rail is a failure because sales tax revenues are down so it can’t expand into all the areas that want it quickly enough. Ok…..

    Love the unintentional irony in the last line – Phil Gordon should feel embarrassed about light rail, not the fact that people call us a smaller LA?

    The one thing Gordon’s term in office will be remembered for, if anything, is the light rail.

  10. PS . Love the claim that this is horrible liberal bias when the expert they rely on is Starlee Rhoades from the Goldwater Institute. Yeah, some liberal bias.

  11. Subway/Metro mass transit works ONLY when there are high populated hubs, and New York City, which is a vertical city, reigns supreme on that. Phoenix is a low density sprawl-ly horizontal city, so any urban transit which required massive infrastructure investment couldn’t POSSIBLY have generated any unmeddled-with cost/benefit ratio that could justify even the first shovel-full of excavation. As mentioned above, busses are indeed far more suited to Phoenix than any rail system. They ride on the existing roads and their routes can be easily modified as necessary.

    Like arid and horizontal super sprawl New Delhi, India, which opened its metro line about five years ago, to great fanfare and bulging ridership the first week and went flat week two and has been declining moribund since, the novelty has worn off the Phoenix Light Rail. It’s inconvenient, it’s expensive, it requires a mammoth bureaucracy to run and maintain it.

    The failure of the mass transit thinking is a one-size fits all approach to urban centers which doesn’t take into account that each American urban center is different, and that New York is unique in its construction. The JOBS, which could have been created in a more sustainable bus system or in private businesses which would be attracted to a low-tax, lower cost city like Phoenix, UNBURDENED with any massive costs of light rail, will instead be artificially sustained by TAXES. The argument to hold on to light rail will be “too big to fail.” The number one rule of business is being able to walk away from “sunk costs.”

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