Next weekend the spirit of Christmas comes to Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa Arizona in the form of real transportation choice. The three interconnected cities are the latest following Charlotte North Carolina to begin light rail operations.
The grand opening comes following 3 years of building and countless years of planning and political debate prior. The system was funded, finally, following voter approval of a .04 cent sales tax in 2000. It is the very same kind of investement Tampa/Hillsborough County residents will soon be asked to consider, largely to fund the very same technology.
Valley METRO light rail car during testing last summer. Photo credit, Rail Life.
At 20 miles long, the METRO system is considered a starter one, again, much like the system proposed for Hillsbrough County that would connect USF to the Tampa International Airport. At the same time that the system begins operations, new express bus service will also begin there, in large part to compliment the system as feeders. Reconfiguration of bus routes is a common schema change that brings more people within viable linkage to the faster, smoother, rail lines.
If you can make it there, the system opens with free fare rides Saturday December 27. The free fare will continue until January 1 (4:40 a.m. reports the Valley Metro site), so you can bet there will be thousands of people clamoring for a test run. Please send online content tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Tampa Rail readers, Tampa will get its shot. Mayor Pam and HART are still full throttle on the issue of launching a Tampa Light Rail system (Creative Loafing has deemed the mayor's efforts in this as the leading story of 2008), and in all likelihood Tampa will see its first voting opportunity in 2010.
Tampa will one day get its own light rail system. Be deligent. Be ready to speak loudly and in full force in favor of real transportation choice. You can do it as a city populace, and, as an individual tired of strip malls and infrastructure built to support cars only. If there's any lesson this latest light rail opening shows us, after all, it's that all it takes is just one character to make a difference.