The Ahwatukee Local Explorer (ALEX) is considered by many to be a great asset to the community, however, some riders and operators feel that this free service provided by Phoenix Public Transit is being constantly abused by Ahwatukee Foothills’ younger residents.
After school lets out during the week, a flood of middle and high school students empties into the ALEX buses and reportedly act belligerent, swear and discuss rude sexual acts, according to riders and drivers.
Bob Salinger, a three-year Ahwatukee Foothills resident, rides the ALEX almost every day and said that the environment can become very uncomfortable.
"People shouldn’t be abusing it by turning it into a circus school bus," he said.
Salinger described several instances that he has witnessed on the ALEX that he does not find acceptable, such as an incident with an adult transient and older high school males harassing a seemingly 13-year-old girl by asking her personal questions like her sexual preference.
"At times it’s just so unruly," Salinger said.
ALEX operator Jose Ortiz has been driving for the neighborhood circulator for nearly two years and said that it is a real problem.
"It is everyday," he said.
Ortiz noted that there are some pretty good kids that ride the bus, but many of the 17- to 18-year-olds don’t have any respect at all for others, especially when you compare their actions to those of the 7- to 8-year-olds who are frequently ride.
"We have the right to ask them to get off the bus, but when we have a full bus it’s hard to tell which ones are causing the problems," Ortiz said.
Metro customer service and Public Transit Bureau officials checked their records for recent ALEX complaints over the past five months, but the only one found on file was referring to too many kids being on the bus, Metro spokeswoman Yvette Roeder said.
"We know that this problem has been existing," Roeder said.
The Public Transit Bureau deals with safety issues regarding public transportation throughout Phoenix.
"We have had student nuisance complaints, but not many in a long time, actually," Public Transit Bureau Lt. Tony Lopez said.
There are two main procedures for dealing with unruly riders or any complaints regarding the ALEX: having the driver notify the bureau by submitting an action request card or relying on riders to contact the Metro customer service office, Lopez said.
"If the operator identifies an issue on the route they can fill out an action request card, which gets channeled to the Public Transit Bureau and assigned to a particular squad based on geographic location and time of day," Lopez said. "They then go to the area where the problem is occurring, contact the operator and get first-hand experience or knowledge of what is the problem simply by us riding on the route with the operator during the time that the problem would normally occur."
The issue is that when the bureau does get involved and has a presence on the shuttle, all the student nuisance problems seem to automatically vanish.
"I have been on the ALEX bus with a police officer and they’re as good as can be," Salinger said. "I think they should give more authority to the bus driver or have an undercover officer."
Lopez said that he has used undercover officers for problems that are under the Public Transit Bureau’s jurisdiction, but not specifically for the ALEX.
"There is an undercover component to the operation, however, the majority of staff is only trained to be in uniform and have a visible presence," Lopez said. "There are so many other routes that are impacted by other serious crime, and I can’t say that the ALEX has been one that has been selected for undercover enforcement."
Lopez said he is going to have his staff check out the reported issues with the ALEX and isn’t surprised that the operators haven’t filled out action requests if it has become a typical part of their day to the point that they are fairly accustomed to poor actions by student riders.
"There are hundreds of buses out everyday throughout the city and we do our best," Lopez said.
If you have any questions or complaints regarding the ALEX, contact the Metro customer service office at (602) 253-5000.
Stephanie Snyder is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.