The best scenario is that ALEX will stay, but as a shell of its former self, with hourly service, half-day operations on weekends, and running a shorter route.
At worst, the City Council’s transportation subcommittee or the council itself may axe ALEX and four other free neighborhood circulators across Phoenix, saving more than $6 million a year.
The sudden cuts to ALEX and the neighborhood circulators is needed to make up a $9.2 million shortfall in transit funding after state lawmakers on March 18 took Local Transit Assistance Funds away from cities to balance the state's budget.
Last week, Councilman Sal DiCiccio organized a committee to look at ALEX and see what could be done to cut the cost to keep the service.
The committee worked Tuesday night to develop a proposal that they hope the council will accept.
One of the changes included on a list of options is a 50-cent-per-ride fare.
“I think a fare will kill ALEX,” committee member Sue Laskovsky said.
But others saw no other way to save ALEX from the chopping block.
“It’s better to recoup a small amount of money from a small number of riders than nothing from a large number of riders,” said Derek Dulin, referring to the historical reality that when a fare is introduced, ridership usually falls by almost half.
Other changes the committee recommended include eliminating the current route north of Elliot Road and west of Desert Foothills Parkway.
The biggest change was to recommend ending the Route 56 bus around Elliot Road, to save more than $500,000 a year.
The City Council’s transportation subcommittee meets at 10 a.m. April 1 in the 12th floor subcommittee room at City Hall, 200 W. Washington St. It will consider the proposal, along with other possible budget cuts, before making a recommendation to the full council on how to deal with the $9.2 million shortfall.
It could be the end of ALEX, which began in 2001 as a demonstration project showing how public transit could be brought to neighborhoods that aren’t built on a traditional grid of major arterial streets.
Funding from the voter-approved Transit 2000 paid for ALEX and quickly it became a hit with more than 35,000 riders a month and eventually was duplicated in other parts of Phoenix.
But with budget cuts, service was reduced by 25 percent last year. If the council keeps ALEX, funding will go from an estimated $700,000 this year to approximately $250,000.
For many of the people who helped design the original ALEX route, and who worked for passage of Transit 2000, having public transit in Ahwatukee Foothills is critical, since once it goes away, they fear it may not return.
“It’s important to me to keep this bus,” said Virginia Morton, who helped push for ALEX a decade ago.
“I’d rather have some bus rather than no bus,” committee member Jessica Herbert said.
But Ahwatukee Foothills resident Greta Rogers reminded everyone on the committee that the city is broke and can’t afford to fund a service like ALEX.
“This is kaput. People will figure a way from A to B,” she told committee members.
Because transit changes take time to implement, any elimination or change of service to ALEX won't occur until the end of July. Changes to the Route 56 bus, if approved, wouldn’t take effect until January 2011.