The Phoenix City Council meets Tuesday to decide how to cut a quick $9 million out of the public transit budget, with ALEX and the four other free neighborhood circulator bus systems at the top of the list of services to be eliminated.
The last-minute shortfall was caused after state lawmakers in March retroactively swept up Local Transportation Assistant Funds to balance the state’s budget, creating a sudden hole in the Phoenix budget that needs to be addressed quickly.
The City Council’s work study session is set to begin at 2 p.m. April 27 in council chambers, 200 W. Jefferson St., in downtown Phoenix and is open to the public.
ALEX was created as a demonstration project for Ahwatukee Foothills in the Transit 2000 bond that Phoenix voters overwhelmingly approved. It was designed to get cars off the streets and move people around in residential areas with few major streets or conventional public transit options.
The program quickly became a hit with students, who could get around Ahwatukee Foothills without asking a parent for a ride.
“I use it all the time to get to the park and to friends’ homes,” Dwayne McGee said during a break skateboarding at Pecos Park.
“I don’t have to keep asking my mom for a ride,” his buddy Jason Osterloth said.
But the free service isn’t just for teens.
Antonina Difiliti uses ALEX daily to get to Chandler Boulevard, and then walks across the freeway to catch a bus to work.
For her, the reductions in public transit options in Ahwatukee Foothills over the past several years have hit hard. First bus service on Chandler Boulevard was cut, then ALEX service was slashed by 25 percent last year and now, depending on what the council does Tuesday, she could end up with no option but to walk more than a mile to find a bus that will take her to work.
“It’s not right what they do,” Difiliti said.
A survey of ALEX riders conducted two weeks ago by the city of Phoenix shows that people use the bus for school, work, shopping and entertainment, which was the original goal to offer an alternative to automobiles clogging Ahwatukee Foothills streets.
The same survey showed that riders of neighborhood circulators city-wide were willing to pay a 50-cent fare if it would save at least a portion of the service.
A committee formed by Councilman Sal DiCiccio last month suggested a scaled back route for ALEX to slash costs while keeping a route that could be rebuilt later.
“Once you eliminate it, it’s gone forever,” said Virginia Morton, a member of DiCiccio’s committee who was also one of the original members of the group that first designed the ALEX route.
ALEX, which stands for Ahwatukee Local Explorer, carries about 1,000 people a day.
The concept of a free neighborhood circulator was so popular that the city eventually instituted four other routes.
The busiest routes are in Maryvale and Sunnyslope followed closely by ALEX. The least used are in Deer Valley and around the Desert Ridge shopping area near State Route 51 and the Loop 101.