Light rail was expected to be the domain of the commuters, those 9-to-5 warriors of the workplace, on Monday. Yet the trains and stations still had an amusement parklike feel, as families again came out in force during the third day of no-fare ridership.
Metro, which operates the 20-mile Mesa-to-Phoenix line, was prepared for - and received - a crush of passengers during the opening weekend. The agency provided a total turnout estimate of 150,000, and cautioned that approximation might be conservative.
But Monday's crowds caught Metro off-guard, spokeswoman Hillary Foose admitted.
At the Sycamore/Main Street station's park-and-ride lot, vehicles filled all but the most distant of the 802 spaces. And any official count of cars would include neither a nearby piece of private property, a vacant dirt lot, which had cars three deep in some places, nor the spillover parking in front of the adjacent strip mall.
Also packed with people was Tempe's Mill Avenue/Third Street station.
With this being the height of the holiday season, children are home from school and many families are hosting out-of-town relatives. When people are looking for something to do, many are deciding to ride the rails, as this activity combines the new and exciting with the added attraction of - free.
At the Dorsey Lane/Apache Boulevard station, disembarking were Chandler resident Gina Hyson and a friend, plus about a half-dozen members of their two families. The train they left behind was quite crowded.
"I felt a little New York-ish," Hyson said. "It felt like Arizona was moving up in the world."
Free ridership continues through New Year's Eve.
"It's going to be an unusual five days," Foose said.
But Foose added that next Monday - with the holidays in the past and Metro charging fares - should provide a clearer look at who is using the trains and how many riders are to be expected.
Also, Arizona State University resumes classes on Jan. 20. It is expected students and faculty members will comprise a healthy portion of daily ridership numbers.