Arizonans Driving Less, and Using Public Transportation at Higher Rates

Categories: News
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Arizonans are driving less, and relying more on public transportation, according to a report from the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

The shift is causing the Arizona PIRG Education Fund to recommend that public officials shift funding away from more highway projects, and more toward other transportation options."

See also:
-Several Highway Changes in 2014

"We recommend that transportation officials and elected leaders look at the data today, and not outdated assumptions, to make sure that any highway projects are absolutely necessary," Arizona PIRG Education Fund executive director Diane Brown tells New Times.

The nonprofit organization's report, Bikes, Trains and Less Driving, says that there was an annual decline of 10.5 percent miles traveled per capita in Arizona.

The number of registered vehicles in Arizona dropped from 2007 to 2012, and in Phoenix, the number of households with two or more cars decreased, while the share of households with no car increased.

This all happened with an increasing population, and the report offers evidence that these trends can't be explained by the economic recession, like more Arizonans working from home instead of commuting, Arizona having a slightly older population, a double-digit share of the population having a disability, and the tendency of the Millennial generation to be more likely to use public transportation.

Meanwhile, the local transit agencies are experiencing record ridership. From the report:
In the Phoenix metro area, the light rail opened in late 2008 and is already experiencing ridership numbers that weren't projected to be reached until the year 2020. In 2013, the Valley Metro transit system experienced a record high annual ridership, and between 2007-2013, boardings on Valley Metro transit service jumped from 60 million to more than 75 million - an increase of 25 percent. The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority recently saw its highest monthly ridership in October 2013. And in Yuma, ridership on Yuma County Area Transit has tripled since 2011.
The report suggests that public officials re-allocate their focus and funding, away from building new highways and toward more transportation options.

Specifically, the organization cites the proposed Phoenix-to-Tucson rail line, urban-area transit systems, and bicycling and walking infrastructure.

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"The time has come for the State of Arizona and its municipalities to shift their transportation priorities away from investments in expensive, unnecessary new highways, and toward the maintenance and repair of our existing infrastructure and the development of new transportation choices for Arizonans," the report states.

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2 comments
warren68
warren68

There is an enormous amount of obfuscation going on here.  The percentage rise of public transit trips is actually the miracle of small numbers -- small changes on an even smaller base.  The point of these charts is to try to say that Arizonans use a lot of transit and we should dump more billions into these projects.  As it turns out, despite all the huge public investment, transit is still a rounding error.


Note that, from their own report, driving vehicle miles per capita are 9175 per person per year.  So lets look at transit.  They exaggerate by showing averages for Phoenix and Tucson, where transit use is higher, not for the whole state like they show vehicle miles.  The total state transit miles per person in the same year, using their numbers, turns out to be as low as 64 (if no one outside of Phoenix or Tucson uses transit) and as high as 110 (if everyone outside of Phoenix and Tucson uses transit at the same rate as in the cities).  The likely number is around 75. 


This means that after all these billions and billions of transit spending, transit trips are 0.8% of vehicle trips (75 vs. 9175). That is a rounding error.  You sure wouldn't get that impression from the report.  


Well, you say, I should compare the increase in transit to the decrease in driving.  OK.  Again using their numbers:  Vehicle driving miles went down 348 per capita over the study period.  In the same time, per capital transit miles went up by about 26 in Phoenix and Tucson (likely less in the state as a whole).  So, at best, transit ridership accounts for about 7% of the drop in driving.


This is not nothing, but hardly justifies the enormous increase in transit spending over the last 15 years and the billions and billions in capital investment.


Oh, and by the way, Phoenix Light Rail ridership has cannibalized bus ridership about 1 for 1.  That means all that investment in light rail has just shifted riders to a more expensive, less flexible transit mode.  But that is another story.

warren68
warren68

Looking at these numbers, I propose 0.8% of the AZ transport budget go to transit and 99.2% go to roads for vehicles.  Surely the AZ PIRG does not want to put the interests of the 1% over the 99%, right?

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