As predicted by skeptics of light rail, like myself, the Phoenix light rail system is starting to kill bus service. This is a familiar pattern -- in most cities that have added rail, from LA to Portland, total transit ridership has fallen as light rail systems have been built. That is because rail is so expensive, and its costs are mostly fixed (ie bond payments for construction costs) and absolutely inflexible (ie you can't shift routes). Since rail costs far more, even orders of magnitude more, per rider than buses, this means that even with modest increases in total transit budgets, total ridership falls when capacity is being shifted to much higher cost rail. Bus service is inevitably cut, because even if you close rail lines, the costs remain.
So here we are, in Phoenix. The article is mainly about the regional transit coalition falling apart, which I have no opinion or interest in, but you can see what is going on anyway.
A bad economy has meant that building a regional bus system in the Valley is no longer a regional endeavor.
A half-cent sales tax was supposed to be the magic bullet that paid for transit and roads. But as tax revenues continue to shrink, cuts to the plan have become inevitable.
Avondale leaders say the toll includes the decimation of future West Valley bus routes and the end of the regionalism that Proposition 400 promised....
Paul Hodgins, capital-programming manager for Valley Metro, which operates the transit system,said every region took a 25 percent cut in transit dollars.
Here is what is going on, though the article only sort of alludes tangentially to this way down in the last 2 paragraphs. Half of the transit dollars in the sales tax increase went to rail, and half to buses. The rail money is almost all for debt service on capital spending which has already occurred. This money has to be spent or the local authorities will default on their bonds. The other half was for bus operations.
Now, there is a 25% cut in the sales tax dollars from this sales tax increase. The half that went to rail can't be touched. So the 25% cut results in a 0% cut in rail and a 50% cut in buses. Further, since bus service carries a lot more passenger trips per dollar spent than rail, this 25% cut will end up affecting well over 50% of the total ridership that benefited from the sales tax funds.
It is clear from the article that folks probably understand this, but no one from the AZ Republic to the transit agencies are yet ready to admit it. Expect the proposed solution to be in the form of more taxes rather than a rethinking of transit strategy. Rail is an albatross, and I wonder how often it has to drive failures like this before people start recognizing it as such.