Local First Arizona launched a free mobile application Wednesday as part of a new push to encourage riders to shop at local businesses near the light rail.
The application, which is essentially a mobile version of the nonprofit’s current Shift Arizona website, displays a listing of local restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues within a half mile of each light rail stop, said Kimber Lanning, director of Local First. Member businesses of the Local First coalition are listed first and are marked with the Local First logo, followed by other local businesses within the half-mile radius.
The application is intended for use by riders who live in the area as well as those who are unfamiliar with the light rail corridor, Lanning said.
“There are a lot of people who use the light rail for things like ball games and block parties and they don’t know what’s in the area,” Lanning said. “This will let them go on, scroll through and see what’s around the stops they visit.”
The application’s launch is part of a marketing campaign partnership with Metro Light Rail to support local businesses along the light rail. Set to run through the holidays, the campaign includes a light-rail train wrap and special ride-along events with prominent Valley residents.
The first ride along will take place Wednesday at 5 p.m. with Tempe Councilwoman Shana Ellis at the Dorsey Lane and Apache Boulevard station. Participants will visit local businesses such as House of Tricks, and other ride alongs with Phoenix Councilmember Tom Simplot and Postino Winecafe owner Craig DeMarco are planned for later this month, Lanning said.
Local First’s partnership with Metro Light Rail is a continuation of the nonprofit’s broader “Shift the Way You Shop” campaign, which encourages consumers to dedicate 10 percent of their purchases to local goods and products.
The release of the Local First app comes at a time when the light rail is witnessing record high traffic. Sept. 9 was the highest trafficked day ever, said Hillary Foose, spokeswoman for Valley Metro, thanks in large part to a Friday Diamondbacks game.
Foose agreed with Lanning that the new app will be beneficial to Valley residents from outlying suburbs.
“I think about that person in Goodyear,” Foose said. “That’s some of the audience we’re looking for.”
Lanning and Foose both said students are also a targeted demographic, though less appear to be riding the light rail this year due to a $70 increase to the U-Pass.
According to data provided by ASU Parking and Transit Services, almost 14,000 U-Passes and Platinum Passes were purchased during the 2010-2011 academic year. Only about 10,000 have been purchased so far this year, said PTS spokeswoman Leona Morales.
Chelsea Steinkamp, a journalism sophomore, lives at Vista del Sol in Tempe and relies on the intercampus shuttle to commute to and from her downtown classes. Steinkamp lived in Taylor Place last year and purchased a U-Pass, but said this year’s price hike was a major factor in her decision to switch to the shuttle. She now buys a day pass whenever using the light rail, which she said is infrequent.
“I was going to buy one and then I figured, well, okay, if it’s going up this much I don’t see the point,” Steinkamp said.
The Local First application joins an increasing number of mobile apps designed in part to highlight the downtown area, including the Walter Cronkite School’s SmartPHX app launched this summer. The Cronkite School’s New Media Innovation Lab is in the beginning stages of developing another app primarily geared toward Downtown students.
Nick Bastian, owner of RailLife.com, said he expects more apps showcasing the light rail and the downtown area will be released in the next couple years.
“There’s lots of mobile apps for tons of stuff but you got to figure out what works and which to use,” Bastian said. “With Local First having the relation with the businesses down there, I think it’s really going to take off.”
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