The End of the Line

Dedicated to the memory of Ed Abbey, an Arizonan who understood that it is important to litter the asphalt paths of America with beer cans pitched from a fast-moving vehicle.

Larry Miller, director of the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA), sat in New Times' conference room and lied to the entire editorial staff. He lied about the Central Corridor route in downtown Phoenix of the rapid rail ValTrans.

Cynical reporters are familiar with bureaucrats who fabricate, invent, fib, misstate, exaggerate, dupe or gull. But outright lies are rare and this one was a beaut. Miller's whopper went to the very heart of people's fears over the siting of rail lines through neighborhoods.

Miller's astounding performance was no more amazing than that of Mayor Terry Goddard.

Goddard has been selling ValTrans by telling audiences that 30 percent of the work force in the Central Corridor now takes buses back and forth from home to the job site. The mayor's point is that with the newly increased availability of rush-hour buses on Central Avenue, folks are opting for mass transit over the convenience of cars. This is a critical argument.

Voters on March 28 are being asked to tax themselves $8.4 billion to construct one of America's most ambitious mass transit systems. The big question in everyone's mind is whether or not commuters will abandon the luxury of their own car to ride public trains and buses.

Despite the fact that almost every national study done on the question finds that people will not give up their automobiles, Goddard's reassuring argument is that because the Central Avenue buses run often enough to be convenient, Phoenix residents already ride mass transit in unprecedented numbers.

Unfortunately, the mayor studied statistics at Joe Isuzu Tech.
Central Avenue is as good a crucible as any to examine ValTrans as portrayed by Mayor Goddard and bureaucrat Miller.

Mayor Goddard refers to Central Avenue, the very heart of the Valley of the Sun, as our Champs Elysees. If you will accept the mayor's Gallic conceit, consider then that, ValTrans est omnis divisia in partes tres: ridership, air quality and leadership.

The New Times newspaper is located close to Central Avenue, where it is easy enough to observe passengers waiting for the bus. When the mayor asserted that 30 percent of the downtown workers were taking the bus, there was a certain astonishment in these offices. How could the thin lines at the transit stops possibly contain one third of all the high-rise employees?

A quick check of census-tract figures yielded an approximate number of total wage slaves in downtown Phoenix. A call to the bus company revealed that even if every single one of its passengers in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Sun City, and Chandler worked downtown, it still would not constitute one third of the work force in the Central Corridor.

On a hunch, New Times contacted various businesses on Central Avenue to see how many of their employees rode the bus. The result:

Company Employees Bus Riders

Lewis and Roca 350 0 Brown & Bain 217 2
Touche Ross 145 2
Arthur Andersen 150 5
Bryan Cave 44 0

TOTALS 906 9

The lady at Arizona Public Service said its 800 employees benefit from a transportation coordination program and yet she couldn't even guess how few employees take the bus. She did say that car-pooling was more popular than the bus. (And we all know how popular car-pooling is.) APS is one of the chief supporters of ValTrans. And if workers from the giant utility's downtown office are not riding the bus in great numbers, the lady from APS was at least optimistic. "We're doing our share," she said.

Goddard claims 30 percent of the Central Corridor work force uses the bus and yet our decidedly unscientific phone survey found only 1 percent participation.

Perhaps the problem was one of awareness. Perhaps if workers were more aware of the issues involved, they would use mass transit.

Well then, what about the editors of New Times?
Surely, no group's consciousness could be higher. The publication has repeatedly written about the issues of air pollution, sprawl, urban infrastructure, freeways, superheated development and mass transit.

In fact, New Times' editor, Jana Bommersbach, mentioned these very points when she argued that this paper ought to endorse ValTrans.

Yet Bommersbach does not take the bus to and from work even though she lives directly off Central Avenue. And no one is holding their breath waiting for her to begin.

Editors Ward Harkavy and Christine Tschopp are no different. Between them, they drive a sensible Volkswagen beetle and a Volvo. If such as these will not give up the convenience of their cars, then who?

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey