Editor’s note: yes, I know. This post would have been much nicer with a couple of pictures of the actual Light Rail. But it was at night, I didn’t have a camera and, most importantly of all, I’m an idiot. Next trip …
My wife’s long-awaited Christmas present, her first time sitting in the lower bowl at the U.S. Airways Center for a Phoenix Suns game, finally arrived last night. It’s more than a little easy to become jaded when you’re a sportswriter – my seats, on the rare occasions I attend a Suns game, are on the floor – but apparently it’s a significant event to not sit in a section where in the event of a sudden change of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling.
The game afforded us our first opportunity to use Phoenix’s new, shiny Light Rail system. For half the cost of parking the car in a downtown garage we were able to park at the northern terminus of the system, the mall formerly known as Christown (which I mention only because I don’t recall the shiny, new name even if it’s been several years) and ride into downtown Phoenix.
Now, if you’re interested in a long-winded explanation of everything wrong with a light rail system – they’re expensive, they aren’t cost efficient, they require subsidization, idiots who don’t obey the signs tend to get pancaked, there’s no direct connection to the airport (an almost laughable error in judgment, to be honest) – you won’t find it here. Given that the light rail’s already been constructed, arguing the merits of the system are almost as producting as debating the pros and cons of the combustion engine.
Having said that, here are a handful of observations about the system:
- When boarding the train, we sat at the terminal for at least five minutes waiting to depart. Why? No clue in the world. We thought it was the lack of a driver, but we sat another couple of minutes after he walked in.
- Glitches abound – a kiosk accepting only coins, automated voices telling us we’re approaching the non-existent 1st Street exit (it’s on 1st Avenue), the same voices telling us we’re approaching a station we passed three stops earlier.
- Lack of signage. We walked to the Jefferson/3rd Street station and were there for a couple of minutes before learning that it’s an eastbound-only station. You need to use the Washington Street station if you want to go west.
- East Valley bias. When we approached the platform for the eastbound train we were asked for our tickets, but not when we went to the westbound platform. The lesson? You need a verified ticket to the East Valley but you can do whatever you want in the West Valley.
- Too many stops. At some point, a game-day express might be worth considering. And did we really need stops every half-mile anyway?
For all of that, however, it’s a service we’re absolutely going to use again. As my wife and I rode through downtown we took note of everything along the line: the Heard Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, even the Old Spaghetti Company and the George and Dragon.
Granted, we still need to drive about 10 miles to reach the terminal so it’s far from perfect. But it’s a start, and one long overdue for one of the largest cities in the nation. For a city this size, public transportation is an abomination.
And even if the fares rise as time and expense might dictate – perhaps a system akin to San Diego’s Trolley or San Francisco’s BART where the fare varies depending on the length of the trip – it’s a decent alternative to scrambling for downtown and game-night parking, if nothing else.[tags]Phoenix real estate, Phoenix light rail[/tags]