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ALEX future looks dim

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Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010 11:00 pm

Cuts to ALEX are coming, and quickly.

On April 1 a Phoenix City Council subcommittee will meet to decide how to deal with a sudden $9.2 million shortfall in state funds, which were swept up two weeks ago to help balance the state’s budget.

The sudden shortfall could mean the end of ALEX and four other neighborhood circulator bus systems in Phoenix on July 26.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio organized a committee to look at ways to raise money and cut costs to save as much of the ALEX system as possible.

“There must be a way to pay for it,” DiCiccio said at a meeting Thursday night.

But he also warned the committee that the sudden $9 million shortfall could be the end of ALEX and all the free-neighborhood circulators.

“At the end of the day you may get nothing,” DiCiccio said.

How to cut costs, reduce the service and hours of operation and if a fare is practical were all options that the committee wants to revisit at 6 p.m. March 30 when it meets again in the Pecos Park Community Center, 17010 S. 48th St.

Commitee members also want information to see if cuts to the existing Route 56 bus, along 48th Street to Arizona State University and beyond, could save a portion of ALEX.

The one thing that almost everyone could agree on is that if ALEX is eliminated, it probably won’t come back anytime soon.

“Whose to say that if it goes away it will ever come back?” asked Derek Dulin, one of the committee members.

But Greta Rogers pointed out that with massive budget shortfalls, the city has no ability to provide free services.

“My recommendation is we eliminate it. When the city has no money, and it has no money, it has nothing to give away for free,” Rogers said.

ALEX, which originally stood for Ahwatukee Local Explorer, was designed to help move people around Ahwatukee Foothills from the narrow, winding residential streets, to popular destinations and to provide a way for people to travel without adding additional cars to the streets. It quickly became popular with parents who didn’t have to make extra trips each day to transport their children.

Jeff Marisola, a committee member, pointed out that the other four neighborhood circulators are in areas with existing bus routes, while Ahwatukee Foothills has just one bus along 48th Street.

“I would say that all five (neighborhood circulators) are not created equal. (This is) a different geographic area,” Marisola said.

After last summer’s 25 percent cut to ALEX, the service now costs about $700,000 a year. City staff estimate that if the five circulators in Deer Valley, Sunnyslope, Maryvale, Desert Ridge and Ahwatukee Foothills are all eliminated it would save $6 million of the $9.2 they must find as soon as possible.

The City Council’s transportation subcommittee meets April 1 at 10 a.m. on the 12th floor subcommittee room of City Hall, 200 W. Washington St.

The subcommittee will look at the recommendations for the five circulators, as well as additional budget cuts to service in other areas, and then forward a plan to the full City Council for action.

Because transit changes take time to implement, any elimination or change of service won’t occur until the end of July.

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