According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, about 1,400 of Central High School’s 2,300 students use light rail during the week to get to school. That’s more good news for a system that’s already proving to be a Sun Belt success story.
The region’s 20-mile, 28-station “starter line” opened for traffic in December 2008. Serving the cities of Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe, Ariz., the line — branded METRO — cost $1.4 billion to build. Engineering work already is under way on the first of several expansion projects, the Northwest Extension, as described here on the agency’s website. According to a system spec sheet found here, the system uses 92-foot-long Kinkisharyo low floor LRVs with room for 66 seated passengers, 175 “total comfort capacity” and a maximum capacity of 226.
With less than two years of service, ridership numbers are typically well ahead of initial projections. According to the fact sheet cited above, METRO anticipated at least 26,000 boardings per day in the first year of operation. Extrapolating from this 2010 ridership report (through July), the system has been carrying, on average, between 35,000 and nearly 45,000 weekday passengers for much of this year. Although it should also be noted that weekend ridership has typically been lower — and inconsistent — and even the weekday numbers seemed to take a dip midyear, as seen in the report and as discussed by local observer Light Rail Blogger.
Such a dip is not unprecedented. In the summer of 2009 ridership also took a dive, as discussed in this Phoenix Business Journal article. PBJ cites “desert heat and summer school breaks,” both of which seem intuitively to make sense — and which lends an added dimension to the Arizona Republic’s report on high schoolers using the system.
Of course, not everyone is a supporter, but the system has found support among those keen to promote transit-oriented development in famously sprawling Phoenix. In addition to Light Rail Blogger mentioned above, check out Raillife.com. It appears to be an interesting amalgam of advocacy and activism designed to promote the LRT “lifestyle,” going so far as to offer “fun stuff” to do near LRT as well as tips on finding a home near the system.
Which brings me back to those high school students. The newspaper says Central High’s principal reported that “few – maybe 100 – Central students drive to the school.” Some special-needs students take a bus, and the remaining students walk, he added. I’ve never been to Phoenix, and can’t speak to the demographics of this particular school. That said, a 2,300-student high school with “maybe 100” of them driving sounds promising.