Arizonans are driving less, and relying more on public transportation, according to a report from the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
The shift is causing the Arizona PIRG Education Fund to recommend that public officials shift funding away from more highway projects, and more toward other transportation options."
"We recommend that transportation officials and elected leaders look at the data today, and not outdated assumptions, to make sure that any highway projects are absolutely necessary," Arizona PIRG Education Fund executive director Diane Brown tells New Times....
In the Phoenix metro area, the light rail opened in late 2008 and is already experiencing ridership numbers that weren't projected to be reached until the year 2020. In 2013, the Valley Metro transit system experienced a record high annual ridership, and between 2007-2013, boardings on Valley Metro transit service jumped from 60 million to more than 75 million - an increase of 25 percent. The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority recently saw its highest monthly ridership in October 2013. And in Yuma, ridership on Yuma County Area Transit has tripled since 2011.
The report suggests that public officials re-allocate their focus and funding, away from building new highways and toward more transportation options.
This is a fantasy.
There is an enormous amount of obfuscation going on here. The percentage rise of public transit trips is actually the miracle of small numbers -- small changes on an even smaller base. The point of these charts is to try to say that Arizonans use a lot of transit and we should dump more billions into these projects. As it turns out, despite all the huge public investment, transit is still a rounding error.
Note that, from their own report, driving vehicle miles per capita are 9175 per person per year. So lets look at transit. They exaggerate by showing averages for Phoenix and Tucson, where transit use is higher, not for the whole state like they show vehicle miles. The total state transit miles per person in the same year, using their numbers, turns out to be as low as 64 (if no one outside of Phoenix or Tucson uses transit) and as high as 110 (if everyone outside of Phoenix and Tucson uses transit at the same rate as in the cities). The likely number is around 75.
This means that after all these billions and billions of transit spending, transit trips are 0.8% of vehicle trips (75 vs. 9175). That is a rounding error. You sure wouldn't get that impression from the report. The Public Interest Research Group has a funny view of "public interest", putting the desired transportation mode of the 0.8% over the desired choice of the 99.2%
Well, you say, I should compare the increase in transit to the decrease in driving. OK. Again using their numbers: Vehicle driving miles went down 348 per capita over the study period. In the same time, per capital transit miles went up by about 26 in Phoenix and Tucson (likely less in the state as a whole). So, at best, transit ridership accounts for about 7% of the drop in driving.
This is not nothing, but hardly justifies the enormous increase in transit spending over the last 15 years and the billions and billions in capital investment.
Oh, and by the way, Phoenix Light Rail ridership has cannibalized bus ridership about 1 for 1. That means all that investment in light rail has just shifted riders to a more expensive, less flexible transit mode. But that is another story.