Note: This opinion column was created by Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp and Mesa Councilman Chris Glover, and published in the Phoenix Business Journal Feb. 20.
Arizona made headlines recently when the latest U.S. Census figures revealed the state topped 7 million residents.
Most of this population growth occurred in Maricopa County, the fastest-growing county in the country. An average of 222 people move here each day. In fact, our metro area is expected to add more than 1 million people during the next 15 years.
An influx of so many people and cars to our region will create a challenge as we struggle to meet transportation demands. As part of the solution, we are fortunate to have a robust public transit system that is well equipped to connect people to life every day.
Consider this: Public transit moves nearly 70 million riders a year, and more than 250,000 people a day. This means that even in car-centric Maricopa County, thousands of people get to work, home, school, doctors, the grocery store and life’s everyday demands using our 26-mile light rail line, bus system, vanpools and paratransit options for our most vulnerable citizens.
Transit is an economic development driver. The light rail system has attracted more than $10 billion in public- and private-sector investment along its corridor and has been a key factor in helping to attract top employers to the region. High-capacity transit corridors, convenient bus routes and flexible mobility options are more important than ever, providing a growing urbanized population who prefer city environments with reliable transportation options.
With that in mind, Valley Metro is building a transportation network focused on the future. Technology and innovative partnerships will be the hallmarks of 2018.
Public transit is just one of many options in travel. New technology, low gas prices, higher levels of auto ownership, ride-share services and the advent of autonomous vehicles are bringing changes to the transit landscape. We are embracing the changes that will transform transportation in the 21st Century.
One example is the recent partnership between city of Phoenix and Lyft. The ride-hailing service is offering discounts for residents to the nearest bus stops in the far reaches of the city. This allows more people to access Valley Metro’s transit network. But we are not stopping there. This year we hope to announce partnerships or pilot programs with one or more autonomous vehicle companies.
Just as important, we want riders to feel safe when taking public transit. Valley Metro’s “Respect the Ride” initiative encourages good conduct and includes new enforcement tools that allow our security officers to deal with disrespectful behavior.
As part of Respect the Ride, we are installing “paid fare zones” on light rail platforms to remind all that good behavior is expected when you’re on the system. We’re also working on a phone app and texting system to allow riders to report concerns and solve problems more quickly.
Stay tuned — there’s a lot going on and we are moving faster than a speeding locomotive!
Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp is chairwoman of the Valley Metro RPTA board. Mesa Councilman Chris Glover is chairman of the Valley Metro Rail board.