Downtown Phoenix Scenesters Vent to City Officials that Light-Rail Service Should be Extended Past Midnight on Weekends

By Benjamin Leatherman

Indie concert promoter Stephen Chilton (far left) speaks at this morning's transportation and infrastructure subcommittee meeting.

Downtown Phoenix activists and entertainment business people urged the city of Phoenix this morning to keep the soon-to-be-launched light-rail system running until 2 a.m. on weekends.

As was reported last night, the Phoenix City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee is considering extending light-rail service (which begins in late December) until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as during special events -- like next year’s NBA All-Star Game at U.S. Airways Center.

Currently, the light rail’s scheduled to operate daily from 4 a.m. until midnight only.

Richard Simonetta, CEO of Valley Metro Rail, told the subcommittee it would cost $350,000 annually to run the trains an additional two hours on weekend nights and during special events. He added that the expense would be “spread out” between Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe, the three cities that will be using the light-rail system.

Kimber Lanning, owner of downtown’s Stinkweeds Record Exchange and the Modified Arts music venue, was among those lobbying the subcommittee hard to extend the hours on weekends, which advocates say would benefit downtown businesses, especially ones that operate late at night.

Increased revenue from local urbanites hitting downtown bars and restaurants, Lanning says, would easily offset any expense from running the trains until 2 a.m. on weekends.

“[People] are certainly not going to plan an evening downtown where they have to leave at 11:30 to catch the last rail out,” Lanning said. “I would argue that they won’t come down at all. If they live in Scottsdale, it’s much easier to [stay in the] Scottsdale area or Tempe than coming to downtown [Phoenix].”

Indie concert promoters Stephen Chilton and Jeremiah Gratza told the committee that extending the hours on weekends would almost certainly reduce DUIs.

“People who go to my shows would like to use alternative means of transportation when they’re out drinking at my events, but a taxi would cost $50, and they can’t take the bus because it’s not running,” says Gratza, a promoter with Stateside Presents.

Ultimately, Lanning and Gratza later told Phoenix New Times, they’d like to see the trains running until 2 a.m. seven days a week. But given the city’s recent budgetary woes, they’d be satisfied to just have the hours extended on weekends.

“With the financial crunch the city is facing right now, it’s unlikely it could afford to run light rail that late every night,” she says. “So we’re hoping just for weekends right now, and if it proves successful then maybe we can request extended hours on other nights of the week at a later time.”

At the meeting, subcommittee members didn’t seem opposed to extending hours on weekends or during special events, but held off taking action until they can get a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, including the expense of running Valley Metro buses and Dial-a-Ride services that would connect with the light-rail system for an additional two hours.

Debbie Cotton, director of Phoenix’s Public Transit Department, and city staff members said they would look into such issues and report back to the subcommittee during its next meeting on October 2.

Councilwoman Peggy Neely, the subcommittee’s chair, said the city’s transit department will be facing some “fairly significant” budgetary issues in the near future, which might complicate the issue of extended light-rail hours.

“I’m not opposed to this, but I think we need to look at a comprehensive approach,” Neely said. “Transit’s got some real tough choices that are coming down the pike.”

The idea of increasing fares an extra few bucks also has been discussed by city officials as a solution to extending hours, and Gratza says late-night riders would willingly pay a "few dollars more" for the convenience of using light-rail until 2 a.m.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.