Merge transit agencies, Tempe mayor urges - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Merge transit agencies, Tempe mayor urges

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Posted: Friday, May 22, 2009 6:01 pm | Updated: 2:47 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Valley Metro, the region's mass-transit agency, has a chief executive, offices with staffers and the mission of getting people who aren't driving where they want to go.

Metro, the agency running the Valley's light-rail system, has a chief executive, offices with staffers and the mission of getting people who aren't driving where they want to go.

Budget goof costly for light rail

It's an unnecessary duplication, according to Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, both a waste of money - perhaps as much as $2.5 million annually - and an inefficient way to best move, on an average weekday, buses with about 220,000 passengers and trains with 34,000.

"Now that much of the construction has been completed on rail ... we have the chance to have a robust operating agency under one umbrella," Hallman said during a meeting last week of Valley Metro's board of directors.

But Phoenix wants two agencies, out of fear the other municipalities may gang up on it.

"It's very unfair for the citizens of any city to have their tax dollars spent in another city without some say-so," said Phoenix City councilman Michael Johnson - like Hallman, a member of Valley Metro's board.

Twice, Phoenix officials have tried to halt Hallman's attempts at exploring a merger of Metro with Valley Metro.

In February, Hallman asked Metro's board to explore the possibilities of combining the agencies. But with Phoenix's vote carrying a weight of 50 percent, one nay stalemated a room full of ayes.

"The goal here is not to strip away Phoenix's authority," Hallman told Johnson. Even after a merger, Hallman said, there still could be a Metro board with Phoenix's voice still louder than the other cities combined.

But Johnson continued to balk, saying his city's decision not to cooperate was "a matter of equality, a matter of fairness." He also noted the Phoenix City Council has passed a resolution opposing such a union.

In the end, the board voted to have Valley Metro ask Phoenix to outline its worries about a potential merger. Hallman said if the city did so, then Valley Metro could address those concerns.

Johnson cast the only dissenting vote.

Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer Dave Boggs had looked into what might be accomplished through a merger, upon the board's request. He said 10 percent of the positions might be redundant, and the ensuing reductions in staffing could result in savings of $2.2 million to $2.5 million annually.

"Certainly, the potential savings is worth thinking about," said the board's chairman, Scottsdale Councilman Wayne Ecton.

Added Surprise Vice Mayor Joe Johnson, the board's secretary: "It's hard to explain to the voters we're not looking at $2.5 million dollars."

Hallman said the time now was ripe to look at a merger due to the pending retirement of Metro CEO Rick Simonetta. Metro's board voted last week to hire a recruiting firm to find his replacement.

Boggs may be retiring in the next few years, Hallman noted, so Valley Metro soon may itself be looking for a new CEO.

"We should be searching for somebody who has the skills to help us take the next step forward, with the possibility and opportunity to merge the two agencies," Hallman said.

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