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* completing the freeways.
* more car-pooling.
* opening up public bus stops to allow jitneys--small, privately owned vans or buses that offer "door-to-door"-type service--to compete with public buses.

* putting more "smog dogs" on the roads.
At a luncheon hosted by the Arizona Republican Caucus in April, Semmens and other transit opponents launched a tag-team attack against the upcoming initiative.

Neither Manning nor any other transit supporters attended the meeting, which was held in a private club on the top floor of the Bank One Building. Manning's absence was gleefully noted by Becky Fenger, the large-coifed leader of the caucus.

"Guess who's not going to be here?" quipped invitations Fenger had made up for the occasion.

Using figures from Semmens' reports, Goldwater Institute head Jeffrey Flake led off by pointing out that light rail comes in "dead last" in terms of the cost per tons of pollutants removed from the air, and "dead last" in terms of congestion relief.

"If we doubled buses, added 20 miles of light rail, it still would give us only a 1 percent relief in congestion," Flake told the audience.

Flake cited a Semmens-penned report pointing out that Atlanta, which spent $279 million on its transit system in 1994, captured less than 2 percent of passenger miles traveled in the city. Portland, which many in the West have hailed as a model of urban planning, didn't fare much better, he added.

"While they're sipping cappuccino in their urban villages," Flake quipped of Portlanders, "only 2.6 percent of the miles traveled in their city were handled by transit in 1994."

Semmens' numbers are based on Federal Transit Administration data.
Afterward, Flake attacked the rail link between Phoenix and Tempe as another gift from the people of Maricopa County to Jerry Colangelo.

"First we paid for his ballpark, and now he wants us to pay for the train to take people to his ballpark," he scoffed.

Similar themes were echoed by other speakers, including Fenger, who told the crowd that clean fuels would do more to alleviate pollution than all the light rail and buses ever would.

(Fenger's environmental credentials are far from sterling. She is best known for her strong backing of an infamous legislative measure that would have legalized the manufacture of ozone-depleting Freon in Arizona, contrary to federal law. She drives a canary-colored Cadillac. The license plate: "FREON.")

Marv Cronberg, recently retired head of the Arizona Automobile Dealers' Association, also made an appearance. Cronberg had taken the bus from his office near 24th Street and Camelback to the downtown meeting, he said, to make a point.

"It took me almost 40 minutes to get here," Cronberg said. "By car, it would have taken me just 15. My point: In the cities of today, nothing will ever match the ease and convenience of the car."

Cronberg accused city leaders of succumbing to "me-tooism," or what Flake referred to as the "edifice complex": the desire to have trains--or ballparks, or science museums--simply because other cities of similar size have them.

"This is just transit envy," Cronberg said. "We want what everyone else has, and that is not a valid reason for spending billions of dollars."

Transit backers seem equally mystified by some of the suggestions proffered up by Semmens and his camp.

Ed Fox, former head of the state Department of Environmental Quality and now a vice president at APS, says Semmens' fondness for such pay-as-you-go proposals as congestion pricing would only squeeze out lower-income drivers during peak travel periods.

Other of Semmens' suggestions, like telecommuting and staggered work weeks, have already been tried, with limited success, Fox adds.

As for Semmens' suggestion that more freeways be built, Fox says, the days of inner-city freeway construction are over, as signaled by the plight of the Paradise Parkway, an east-west midtown freeway that was shot down by activists after ADOT had spent more than $50 million to acquire right of way.

"We will not build another inner-city, or cross-town, highway," Fox says. "Which begs the question: If you can't build more cross-town highways, then how will you move more people across town?"

Semmens and the antitaxers have also argued that all mass-transit systems, including buses, are highly subsidized, with riders often paying just a fraction of the true cost of their rides.

It's a fact that Manning concedes. But, she adds: "How profitable do you think the libraries are? How profitable are the freeways, for that matter?"

Even so, with gasoline cheaper than bottled water, with Ford recently announcing plans to unveil a lumbering, three-ton sport-utility vehicle a full foot longer than the vaunted Chevrolet Suburban, how can Manning and the folks behind the initiative ever hope to lure people onto trains and buses?

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Howard Stansfield