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Public Transportation

April 5, 2009

Phoenix Unveils Fancy Light Rail Line, Newbie Transit Riders Too Polite to Squeeze Into Crowded Cars

January 3, 2009 at 2:43 PM | 1 Comment


We were in Phoenix for Christmas, and we wondered, as we always do when we travel, if we could ever be happy living there. Having fled the cold and wet New York winter, Arizona’s mild weather and breezy lifestyle seemed awfully enticing, but we’d hate to give up the energy and convenience of the city for a suburban, car-dependent existence. We’re just so used to taking the subway that the idea of having to drive everywhere seems like a drag.

But as of now, it’s possible – if difficult – to live in Phoenix without owning a car. The city just took a big step toward a 21st century public transit system with the opening of its light rail line, and while it’s a far cry from the New York City Subway, it’s a cheap and convenient way to get around the city without worrying about traffic, gas, or those insidious red light and speeder cameras that keep popping up everywhere.

Transit geeks that we are, we took a ride on the Phoenix Metro on its first day of operation and found it to be quite impressive. The $1.4 billion line stretches twenty miles from northwestern Phoenix to Mesa, and the green-and-white cars are quiet, smooth, and futuristic. Since the train was free during its first few days of operation (normally it costs $1.25 a ride, or $2.50 for an all-day pass) it was packed with riders, many of whom probably haven’t taken public transit in years. As regular subway commuters, we found it cute that people were reluctant to press into the crowded cars, opting instead to wait for the next train. That will change.

The light rail is also great news for area boozers, as it passes through the bar-heavy town of Tempe. While the last train leaves at 11:00 p.m., it offers safe, sober transportation to many tipplers who heretofore saw little alternative to getting behind the wheel after having a few too many. If only Charles Barkley had the option of taking the train on New Year’s Eve he might not be in such hot water right now.

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