ALEX, the free neighborhood circulator bus system, dodged a budget bullet Tuesday and will continue to operate, but with a slimmed down route and shorter schedule starting July 26.
“I was very happy with the outcome,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who had been fighting for more than a month to keep the bus, after state lawmakers unexpectedly pulled Local Transportation Assistance Funds to balance the state budget, creating a $9 million hole in the city’s budget.
Phoenix transit planners had recommended that all five neighborhood circulators be axed to bring the budget back in line.
Instead, the council cut funding by 50 percent for ALEX and the two other most popular routes, eliminated two routes with the lowest ridership, and decided not to impose a 50-cent fare.
All three surviving neighborhood circulators in Ahwatukee Foothills, Sunnyslope and Maryvale, will operate with identical hours, 13 hours a day Monday through Friday and seven hours a day on the weekends with trips one hour apart.
Also, ALEX will now have a shorter route, eliminating service north of Elliot Road and west of Desert Foothills Parkway.
“I’m happy they are keeping it, but I’m way out on 17th Avenue,” said Kathy Hagberg, whose daughter uses ALEX often, especially in summer. Hagberg liked ALEX because of the convenience, but also because it was a safe alternative for her daughter. Now mom and daughter will have to come up with a new plan to get around.
The council-approved changes are in line with most of the recommendations made by a citizens committee formed by DiCiccio last month to help stave off the elimination of ALEX.
Committee member A.J. Wells was happy with the council’s decision, but would have included another item.
“I think there should be a fare,” Wells said after the vote.
During the discussion, council members seemed to agree that the amount of money raised would not justify the large drop in ridership expected if a fare were imposed on top of the already expected drop in ridership due to the route and hours being cut.
ALEX started in 2001 as a free, demonstration project to show how public transit could be provided in hard-to-reach residential areas like Ahwatukee Foothills. It was so popular that immediately other portions of Phoenix began demanding a similar service.
But with the recession, sales tax revenues have fallen and last year ALEX was cut by 25 percent.
ALEX, which stands for Ahwatukee Local Explorer, carries about 1,000 passengers a day.