Paranoid Geezers Swear Off Light Rail Forever After Seeing Fight

Paranoid Geezers Swear Off Light Rail Forever After Seeing Fight

Perhaps Ken and Terri Johnson of Tempe need to get out more.

After recently witnessing a fight on the light-rail train car they were riding in, the elderly couple has sworn off the Valley's 20-mile choo-choo line for good.

They decided to tell the whole world about their paranoia by penning an "AZ We See It" column that was published on Sunday in the Arizona Republic.

They're "active seniors who have used the light rail a lot over the past four or five years," their column says. The Johnsons list a few taxpayer-subsidized activities they enjoy, such as watching Arizona Diamondbacks games or strolling around the Phoenix Art Museum. Then came the fateful afternoon when they stepped on the light rail at the Price Road/Apache Boulevard stop.

Two young men launched into a violent fracas before their terrified eyes. "No one on the train interfered" with the combatants, they write. They bailed from the train at the next stop, without waiting "to see if there were any weapons involved and to see what the outcome of the melee was."

In thinking about the incident, the couple decided it's unsafe to have "no on-board security" on the light rail. ("On-board security," by the way, is something we've never seen on subway cars in major cities. It may exist — we just haven't seen it.)

The Johnsons proceed in their column to suggest several changes they believe need to be made immediately. They want: gated access at the light-rail stations; no more bicycles on the trains because "they constantly block aisles and doors" and are "intrusive;" security guards in the light-rail cars; security cameras at the stations and in the cars; and additional cars put into service during Diamondbacks' games and other peak events.

Oddly, the Johnsons add a final demand to their list: They want "an independent audit of the total light rail operation from all aspects of customers satisfaction, including security, safety, performance and profitability."

It sounds from the last suggestion that their problem with light rail goes well beyond seeing a scuffle. Their solution seems too drastic for people who merely witnessed a fight: "After composing this opinion ... we have decided not to use light rail ever again," they write. "We are very dissatisfied patrons."

We're unsure how their solution to never ride again makes real-world sense. If the Johnsons saw a fight occur outdoors, would they ever leave their home again?

Fact is, the "public" part of public transportation means that you may run into some unsavory characters on a bus or train sometimes, and you may even see people argue or fight. You may see crime suspects run past you with the police in hot pursuit while you're waiting for the next train to come, (yes, we saw that once in New York City.) You don't have the same issues while driving a car — but in a personal vehicle you may experience other problems, like road rage or a drunk-driving accident.

The Johnsons do have one interesting point buried in their screed: The light-rail train driver didn't seem to notice the fight. According to Valley Metro's website, cameras are located in the cars, at park-and-ride lots and at the stations, but those are "largely monitored by the central operations center." Most fights on the light rail are probably finished by the time central operations notices them. Maybe drivers should better understand what's going on in their cars — and stop the train during ongoing fights.

Of course, if someone wants to take responsibility for themselves while aboard the light rail — well, this is Arizona. Legally, you can pack heat on the train.

You can also take your favorite sword on board. In 2012, as you may recall, video surfaced of a fight on the light rail that was broken up by a man wielding a samurai sword.

**

We asked Metro Light Rail to comment on the Johnsons' column and safety issues. Sue Tierney, spokeswoman, responded Tuesday evening with the following:

"Valley Metro considers safety a top priority. We encourage passengers to be proactive and communicate with us or the proper authorities if they feel less than safe. It’s important to remember that Valley Metro operates in an public, urban environment, which is similar to many public spaces (parks, shopping malls). Our open system, which is common in the western U.S., allows light rail to be accessible to the community that it serves. The open design, that does not incorporate turnstiles, was intentional to allow for integration into the streetscape, easy access and development of the areas near stations. Transit also brings together a diverse community who have a common purpose to reach a destination.

"While we realize incidents occur, we continue to enhance security of light rail as ridership outpaces expectations. Valley Metro partners closely with local, state and federal law enforcement to provide a safe and secure environment for passengers. We want riders to say something if they see something. Here are ways Valley Metro supports the safety of our riders:

"There are six emergency call buttons inside each vehicle (two in the front, two in back and two in the middle near the bike racks). Pushing this button will put you in communication with the train operator who can assist by calling the appropriate emergency service, like security personnel, police or fire.

"* Riders can call 911 or Crime Stop (the city’s non-emergency police phone number) from a cell phone to be more discreet. Try to give the train number, which will more quickly identify its location.

"* The emergency call box at the station can also be used to alert our control center and authorities.

"Safety and security teams are constantly traveling the light rail system to patrol the activities on the trains and at the platforms. These teams are increased on Friday and Saturday evenings.

"Additional thoughts:

"* The greater Phoenix area has a very active bicycling community and we realize that light rail has been very popular among cyclists for getting them to and from their destinations. We continue to encourage cyclists to use the bike racks and be courteous to passengers when boarding and riding light rail. Bicycles are an important part of our total transit network as they integrate with all modes of transportation.

"* Service is enhanced using 3-car trains and interim shuttle trains during special events, e.g. events at US Airways Arena, Chase Field, and in downtown Tempe and Phoenix to help manage crowds that disperse within a short timeframe.

"* Security cameras are active on board trains and at all station platforms. They have been very useful as a law enforcement tool."

Got a tip? Email Ray Stern

Follow Ray Stern on Twitter: @RayStern

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX


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