Commentary

Phoenix Light Rail Ridership Tanks

Phoneix light rail ridership has hit a low for the year, averaging just 29,469 boardings per day on an average weekday in June according to the transit authority. That’s down from 30,617 in January and the 2009 peak of 37,386 in April. Overall boardings were 815,566 for June, down from the peak of over 1 million in April.

Transit agency folks say this isn’t that much of a surprise. Temperatures are exceeding 100 degrees, Arizona State University is out for the summer, and there are fewer special events driving one time riders.

The real point, however, is that transit systems are not immune to the normal swings in demand that effect transportation choices. Indeed, in Phoenix, it’s interesting that the system seems to be maxing out at 1 million boardings (not round trips) per month, and about 35,000 average weekday boardings. That’s not a trivial number, but it’s hardly large enough to impact traffic congestion or environmental quality.

These numbers reflect the first six months of operation for the line and, technically, exceed Metro’s forecast of 26,000 average weekday boardings. I’m interested in knowing, however, what the forecast was when Metro committed to the project. Forecasted boardings often reduced between the initial planning/commitment stages of the project and the actual opening of the system.

The transit agency’s web site can be found here.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.