The End of the Line

Opponents also never mention how families could save money if a transit system is built. Goddard says a motorist who uses a vehicle only for pleasure instead of for commuting can save up to $200 per year on auto insurance. And it doesn't stop there. In speeches throughout Phoenix, Goddard appeals to parents whose children are just about reaching the age where "Can I borrow the car?" replaces "Can you drive me somewhere?" He does some quick calculations about the cost of having a teen-age driver in the house, much of that a direct result of the whopping bill that will come from the insurance company. "Mass transit is an alternative to a teen-age driver in the house," Goddard says, figuring that a parent who can save up to $1,000 a year for two years by telling the teen to take the train is recouping much of the investment in ValTrans.

Opponents also hammer on the issue of how mass transit has not lived up to expectations elsewhere. And there are plenty of examples of that. But Chasse's comparisons sometimes are invalid.

One of Chasse's favorite targets is Miami, with its single-line heavy rail system. Everyone agrees no one rides the system. But Chasse is jumping to conclusions when he says this proves rail doesn't work.

"The placement of the line was a political decision," according to Bill Dobson, aide to Dade County Supervisor Charles Dusseau, who chairs the county's transportation committee. "The line doesn't go where people want it to go."

The opponents also ignore places where the system does work. In Vancouver, despite the noise complaints, people do ride the light rail system. Paul Barlow, manager of financial services for BC Transit, says fares already account for more than 50 percent of operating expenses on the 3-year-old system. The fares, though, are higher than anticipated here: Riding end-to-end on the 13-mile system costs $1.75 each way during rush hour.

The system is also fast and convenient. Barlow says the elevated lines and automated cars mean "we can run trains every 90 seconds."

(Vancouver officials opted to pay construction costs through a method other than sales taxes. Motorists pay 3 cents a liter--about 11 cents a gallon--in gasoline taxes to support the system. All residents within the service area pay a $1.60-a-month surcharge on their power bills. And businesses pitch in, too, with a special property tax levy.)

Finally, Vancouver has seen what the future may hold for the Valley, particularly if there's another energy crunch like the mid-Seventies. Gasoline prices are 45 cents a liter--in excess of $1.70 a gallon--which makes taking the train a more economical alternative. On top of that, all-day parking in downtown Vancouver is scarce.

In many ways, the arguments of Chasse and others are the same kind of overly simplistic, paranoid, anti- government claims that are reminiscent of former Governor Evan Mecham and his supporters. (Is it any wonder that Mecham opposes ValTrans?) "What governmental project that you know has ever come in on cost?" Chasse complains.

That hasn't stopped Chasse and other ValTrans opponents like state Senator Pete Corpstein from being the premier drum-beaters for more freeways, cost overruns and all.

The opponents have used that anti-government theme very successfully with only limited resources. The financial disclosure reports filed this week show VAST raised only $10,431. The anti-ValTrans campaign's largest contributions came from a trio of $1,000 checks, one from liquor wholesaler Kemper Marley. Actually, the major benefactors of the effort have been Valley TV stations who have so far donated nearly $24,000 worth of free advertising time to the cash-poor campaign. Chasse says he tried to get large contributions from business owners but found no takers.

One prominent Valley businessman told New Times that he thinks ValTrans is a bad idea and would be more than happy to kick in some funds. But he points out that his bank is a major ValTrans supporter. Does he think the bank would screw up his credit rating if he came out publicly against Proposition 300? "I don't know, but I'm not taking any chances."

There are some moderate voices in opposition, though often for different reasons. Susan Bitter Smith, a member of the Scottsdale City Council, says voters should reject the plan as being too expensive and too grand. She also doesn't like having a transit board composed of Valley mayors, particularly with a weighted voting system that allows Phoenix and any one other community--even El Mirage--to outvote the rest of the board on decisions of where the rail lines will go.

But her calls for voters to reject this plan and demand one on a smaller scale have a touch of irony: One of her complaints is that the Scottsdale portion of the rail system won't be built until well into the next century, while other communities will have service earlier. "That puts Scottsdale, quite frankly, at a very serious economic disadvantage," she complains. "We sit there and pay for it, but we're not able to access it."

Bitter Smith thinks if ValTrans fails, the Arizona State Legislature could be convinced to allow a scaled-back plan to be presented to the voters. And Corpstein, still believing more roads are the answer, says he would introduce legislation to levy a nickel-a-gallon fuel tax in Maricopa County "to take care of the freeways." And buses? He would allow the county supervisors to impose a sales tax of one tenth of a percent, which would raise about $20 million annually.

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