The contention that light rail is a good investment because “it serves nearly as many people as SR 51” is a ludicrous distortion of reality.
Even if we allow for the absurd comparison of the ridership for the ENTIRE light rail system to be compared with this single freeway we can observe that SR 51 carries over 150,000 vehicles per day at its busiest point near the junction with I-10 to over 80,000 at its least busy point near the outer loop. This is 100 percent more than the touted 43,000 riders per day for all light rail routes combined.
Light rail is, and forever will be, a tiny contributor to the region’s mobility. Its less than 100 million passenger miles per year pales in comparison to the Phoenix freeways’ 11 billion vehicle miles of travel and the street system’s 30 billion vehicle miles of travel. Yet, Prop 104’s allocation of funds plans to spend only 7 percent of the revenues on roads–3 percent to add lanes and 4 percent to remove lanes to make way for bike paths, pedestrians, and light rail trains.
In contrast, Prop 104 plans to spend 40 percent of the revenues on a light rail system that will accommodate only three-tenths of one-percent of travel. This is an unbalanced allocation that compels the 99 percent who drive to heavily subsidize the less than 1 percent who use rail transit. Lest we think that these subsidies to light rail are aimed at helping the poor, Valley Metro boasts that rail is attracting more higher income riders.
Here’s the deal: if Prop 104 passes or if it voted down–either way–99 percent of travel in the city will continue to take place in automobiles. Light rail will play an insignificant role in how people move about the community. Is this insignificant impact worth taking on all the burdens of deficits, debt, and higher taxes that Prop 104 will impose?
John Semmens, retired transportation economist