Riders of the 540 Express Bus say they are tired of fighting every few months to keep their bus route, but without it many would be unable to get where they need to go.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Bobbie Hendrix said right now she walks across the street every morning to catch the bus and she’s dropped off near work in downtown Phoenix about 20 minutes later. If the 540 is cut, any alternatives would make her commute over an hour long when the bus is on schedule.
Hendrix and other riders have been told they can catch a bus from IKEA or the Pecos Park and Ride, though they’ve been given no alternative way to get to either stop.
“We just feel like all we can do is say our peace and keep our petition going,” said Hendrix, who has collected 135 signatures on a petition to keep the route going. “I’m not asking to just walk out my front door to catch a bus, I just want an alternative option for those people to get to IKEA. They’re not giving any. How can you eliminate public transportation to the Ahwatukee area?”
At a budget hearing the city of Phoenix had at Pecos Community Center, Hendrix spoke up to representatives from the city’s budget and public transit departments. She was told at the meeting that the decision to cut the 540 was a complex one with many moving pieces.
“One of the issues that the Public Transit Department has to deal with is coordinating with our partner transit agencies,” said Nancy Steptoe, deputy director with Phoenix’s Public Transit Department. “The city of Phoenix does not fund and operate every route in the Valley... What we do is either based on revenue models or historical ridership. Those costs are partitioned among the areas of the route… It’s being impacted by at least three local governments and it is not solely in our hands.”
Riders of the 540 have been going to public meetings across the Valley to have their voices heard, but some of the meetings are at odd times and aren’t easy to get to while working or depending on public transportation. Still, attending meetings appears to be the group’s only hope.
“Have your voices heard,” said Mayor Greg Stanton when asked what the group can do to save their route. “Part of government is listening to people and if the people speak we’ve got to listen. We need to hear from people who use that, or even those that don’t use it but like having it.”
Stanton recently mentioned plans to expand public transportation in South Mountain Village during his State of the City Address last week. At a press conference following the speech he said he hopes to be able to get more grants as the economy improves and expand the region’s transit system in the future.
Riders fighting to keep the 540 are confused why their route keeps being threatened. They’ve been told there’s low ridership, but Hendrix said she and one other woman have been able to collect 135 signatures just from the few times they’ve been on the bus.
Susan Szelinger, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who took a job in downtown Phoenix specifically because there was a bus that could take her there, says there may be greater savings if even small changes were made to other routes.
“If cuts were necessary it would be nice to look at other routes first that have a bigger financial impact/savings,” Szelinger wrote in an email. “Or if necessary, reduce the 540 service to three buses in and three buses out and not eliminate the route entirely.”
Valley Metro has been taking public comment about the possible changes for the past month. According to the Valley Metro website, although there is a greater need for public transit, passenger fares only cover about 23 percent of operation costs and many transit agencies have had to cut service or raise fares.
According to Susan Tierney, spokeswoman for Valley Metro, the routes being looked at for possible cuts were chosen because they weren’t being very productive with taxpayer dollars. Tierney said Valley Metro is trying to focus limited revenue on programs that have proven to be efficient, like the Rapid bus which runs from Park and Ride locations.
“This model, which is basically the RAPID service, has proven to be very productive for riders and for the overall system,” Tierney said. “The riders like that system because it is instant. Once they get on the bus they basically head straight downtown. Realizing that we now have more facilities where we can offer that service, it seemed like a good time to evolve the Express bus service so that it can provide more of that point-to-point service which is more efficient, especially in a time of challenging revenues. We’re able to pick up more riders at one location and behave more like a true Express bus.”
The possible cuts will be considered in the July 23 service change.
Those interested in speaking up about possible cuts can send written comments to “July 2012 Bus Service Changes,” Phoenix Public Transit Department, 302 N. 1st Ave., Suite 900, Phoenix, AZ 85003, or by email to email@example.com until 5 p.m. on Friday, April 20.
Information on proposed bus service changes will be posted at www.phoenix.gov/publictransit/july2012.html.
The mayor will also hold an online budget hearing on Thursday, April 19 at 7 p.m. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or through Twitter using #PhoenixBudget.
The hearing will be streamed live online at phoenix.gov and on TV at Phoenix Channel 11 through Cox and Century Link.
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