During this week and next, Valley Metro is hosting the 2016 American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Conference, a prestigious transit industry event bringing more than 2,500 rail professionals to our city to discuss the key factors that make our 26-mile light rail system a resounding success, both as a vital public transportation option and as a driver of economic development.
Since accepting its first riders back in December 2008 and serving throngs of passengers every single day since then, Valley Metro’s light rail system continues to grow in popularity. It started with more than 11 million riders in fiscal 2009 and has grown to nearly 15 million riders in FY 2015, an increase of 30 percent.
The system is essential in moving students, professionals and visitors to not only their every day destinations, but also to big events like ASU football games, Phoenix Comicon, concerts and many others.
In fact, site selectors highlight light rail as a key factor in attracting mega-events to the Valley, including Super Bowl XLIX, the 2016 College Football Championship and 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four. On the Saturday before Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, the system served its all-time, single-day record of 126,000 passengers.
In addition to connecting residents with jobs, education, arts and entertainment, Valley Metro’s light rail system is an economic boon, with more than $8.8 billion in private and public capital invested along its lines connecting the hearts of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
Under the leadership of interim CEO Scott Smith, the former Mesa mayor, Valley Metro is well on its way to regaining the trust of Arizonans. Smith is addressing unflinchingly the organization’s challenges, which ultimately enables Valley Metro to focus on what it does best: provide reliable, innovative and cost-effective transportation solutions for our region.
With all of these benefits of our young light rail system, it isn’t a surprise that Arizonans support light rail as a priority in their lives now and in the future. Phoenix voters expressed that support in August 2015 when we approved a citywide plan known as Transportation 2050. Key goals of the 35-year plan include adding 42 miles of light rail throughout the region, extending local bus service through 2 a.m. and adding new commuter express bus service and passenger amenities.
To add some entertainment to the conference, the International Rail Rodeo is taking place June 15 –19. The event showcases and celebrates skilled light rail operations and maintenance staff, which provides safe and reliable daily service. Operators and maintainers from the United States, Canada and Japan will display their abilities and knowledge of safety procedures and equipment in the skills competition.
So, please join me in rolling out the welcome mat to the transportation industry experts coming to our city to learn about our light rail system, exchange ideas and best practices from their own systems and even engage in a little friendly competition.
Whether it’s moving forward people or our economy, Valley Metro light rail is full steam ahead.