Light rail a safe mode of transportation

Metro Light Rail
Since opening in December of 2008, Metro Light Rail security officers have cracked down on those who avoid paying fares, reporting approximately 1,600 incidents. (Stephanie Snyder/DD)

Despite a recent fare hike and worries that summer heat would find more transients seeking refuge on board, fewer people are avoiding paying the fare for the eight-month-old Metro light rail, officials said.

During the light rail’s first six months of operation, Metro security officers encountered a ridership evasion frequency of less than 1 percent, said Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose. There were more than 1,600 incidents of riders caught without fare media, and nearly 600 citations were issued.

“There is a learning curve that occurs with an opening of any public transit service,” said Foose, explaining why almost two-thirds of riders caught without appropriate fare media were issued warnings instead of citations.

“A good percentage of our riders are new to public transit,” Foose said. “Some (riders) legitimately do not know how to ride the light rail properly.”

Citations, as well as violent crime committed on light-rail trains, are handled by the police department of the city where the incidents occur, Foose said.

“(Fare payment) is not a big issue, because most people are pretty honest,” said Sgt. Tommy Thompson, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.

Citations start at $50 plus court fees, meaning that most tickets will cost around $70 total, Foose said. For flagrant violators, citations upwards of $500 can be issued.

“The big issue that light rail faces is accidents,” Thompson said. “Those 100 percent of the time have been caused by people turning against the signal or disobeying traffic signals,”

The biggest light-rail accident since its opening last December occurred Sept. 5, reported the Arizona Republic, when a sports-utility van ran a red light going south on North 32nd Street and collided with a train heading west on East Washington Street, knocking it off the track and damaging the electrical poles. Four people were injured and it took eight hours to resume operation.

There have been 28 light rail accidents with no fatalities and few severe injuries in the Phoenix area since its opening, Thompson said.

With the expansion of ASU’s Downtown campus, more students are relying on the light rail for transportation. However, many find it difficult to disassociate public transportation from crime and transient-related concerns.

Mary Shinn, journalism freshman, said she has to ride the light rail late at night to get to and from Tempe for band practice, but now tries to travel with a friend at all times.

“I was approached by a man who harassed me and made me talk to his friend on the phone,” Shinn said.

Both Foose and Thompson recommend using common sense above all else when riding the light rail.

“From time to time there may be transients joyriding but there is nothing to substantiate those fears (of being harassed or in danger),” Thompson said. “If you come across people who look unscrupulous, avoid them. If there’s a suspicious person, call the police. If you’re riding late at night, consider having a friend with you.”

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