Tempe residents offer ideas about potential transit cuts

TRANSIT CHANGES: Methods of transportation such as Metro buses, Orbit buses and even the light rail could undergo changes in the coming months pending meetings with Tempe residents this week. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

Tempe officials listened to ideas from concerned residents Wednesday evening about managing potential budget cuts to the city’s transit system.

About 50 people gathered at the Tempe Transportation Center, where officials from the Tempe Transportation Department outlined possible reductions and changes to transit services.

The purpose of the meeting was to get input on the changes from transit users.

Citizen concerns included the elimination of bus routes, cuts to light rail and bus service times and higher fare charges.

A proposed fare for the currently free Orbit bus was introduced as well.

A Transit Service Priority Survey, listing possible Tempe transit service adjustments, was distributed, and attendees indicated how the possible changes would affect their travels.

Transportation types affected in the potential cuts include the Metro Light Rail, Valley Metro bus, Express Bus Service and Orbit Neighborhood Circulator.

Tempe has a forecasted budget deficit of about $12 million, said Greg Jordan, the city’s deputy director of transportation.

By the next fiscal year, the transit fund will need to be reduced by about $4.7 million, Jordan said.
Most of the system cuts are scheduled to be implemented in July.

Modifications to the system that require coordination with partner cities within Maricopa County may be delayed until January 2012, Jordan said.

“[Maricopa County] is looking at a fare increase region-wide to be initiated in between 2012 and 2013,” Jordan said.  “The amount [of the fare] is not certain yet.”

The Tempe transit system is funded primarily by a half-cent sales tax.  Revenue from this sales tax has decreased, causing Tempe to reevaluate the transit system in order to reduce costs.

Tempe resident Barbara Dembowski uses Valley Metro bus route 108, which mainly travels east and west along Elliot Road, about three to four times per week.

Cutting the route is one option on the table; this would eliminate service through the town of Guadalupe and Arizona Mills Mall.

“I am here tonight because I feel that [route 108] is an effective route,” Dembowski said.  “I think that [Tempe Transportation is] still trying hard to accommodate everyone’s wishes, considering all the parameters.”

Tempe residents are encouraged to attend public meetings to learn more about potential changes to the Tempe transit system and voice their opinions.

“Regardless, I feel that the Valley Metro is one of the best-run transit systems in the country,” Dembowski said.

The next transit service changes meeting is Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Tempe History Museum on East Southern Avenue.

If citizens are unable to make the public meeting, online commentary is available until Feb. 28 through the city’s website.

Reach the reporter at cksilves@asu.edu