East Valley commuters take to the rails - East Valley Tribune: News

East Valley commuters take to the rails

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Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 5:14 pm | Updated: 9:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Suzy Phoenix never used public transportation before Monday, the first day that Metro, the Valley's new light-rail system, hit the tracks to move commuters to and from work.

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She was sold two minutes into her 25-minute ride from the Sycamore Transit Station in Mesa to her stop at Priest Drive and Washington Street, where she would walk a short distance to her office at Salt River Project.

"I think they need to add more (track); it would be a good thing," Phoenix said, with a handbag between her feet on the floor and both hands wrapped around a cup of coffee.

As Phoenix's train left at 7:30 a.m., the car was only about a quarter full. But within a few stops along Apache Boulevard in Tempe, about 85 percent of the seats were taken.

The sight of crowded trains continued throughout the day. Even Metro officials said the number of passengers surprised them.

However, it may never be known how many riders were commuters traveling to and from their jobs, and how many were transit tourists.

Families were in evidence on station platforms throughout the East Valley, as many people said they didn't want to fight the crush of crowds during the opening weekend.

During Saturday's and Sunday's kickoff festivities, cars were standing-room-only and there were two-hour waits at the end stations. Metro estimated attendance to be at least 150,000.

Phoenix's train glided along at vehicle-traffic speeds, past such landmarks as the white bubble where the Arizona State University football team practices, Wells Fargo Arena and Sun Devil Stadium. It picked up speed as it crossed over Tempe Town Lake.

Phoenix tried to explain why she expects to become a daily rider, but the public-address system interrupted her continually with a booming arrival announcement or an admonishment about the rules.

A pleasant woman's voice calls out the stations while a man's voice lays down the law in baritone.

"Smoking and eating prohibited!" "Please allow passengers to exit before boarding," "Soliciting is prohibited."

Phoenix said she lives near Higley and Baseline roads in Gilbert and plans to begin catching the bus from Superstition Springs Mall to the Mesa station.

She won't save any time on the travel, but since her employer will provide train passes she expects to save on gas and car-maintenance expenses.

She'll also be relieved of the stress of driving.

"The commute is horrible," she said.

Nancy Raabe, a Tempe resident who lives within walking distance of the Mill Avenue/Third Street station, said she and her husband have been waiting two years for trains to start running.

The couple carpool to their respective jobs in downtown Phoenix.

"He's on vacation, but we're going to try it together," Raabe said.

Like Phoenix, Raabe doesn't expect to save on time since they got to use the carpool lane on the freeway, but it will ease the daily stress.

However, not every business rider left their train on Monday thinking they'd be back.

Queen Creek resident David Banks, in pursuit of a job, rode from the Mesa station to downtown Phoenix and back. But the position he's seeking would have him start work at 6 a.m.

"I'll probably end up driving," Banks said. "I'll miss the rush hour, which will be nice.

"But, it's good transportation."

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