The excitement builds as passengers walk toward the Valley Metro (Metro) station at the Sycamore Transit Center in Mesa, Ariz., anticipating the 40-minute ride to Chase Field for an Arizona Diamondbacks game against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, April 22. Passengers from all walks of life join in the camaraderie. They offer tips about which station is closest to their destination and where to board for the return trip home. Coming from all areas of the metropolitan Phoenix area, and even the U.S., most of them join in the common denominator of riding light rail to go to a Major League Baseball game.
Opting to ride light rail on game days is becoming as traditional and American as hot dogs and apple pie. Since the system opening on December 27, 2008, Metro experienced its highest ridership day with the D-backs home opener on April 6, 2012 serving more than 62,000 passengers. Daily boardings in March averaged 43,800, which surpassed system expectations of averaging 26,000 daily passengers.
Shown from left: Kyle Wagg, Tonya Pagaro with son Jayden, Ruth Wagg and Vince Wagg.
Residents and visitors alike are impressed with the system and the ease of travel. Braves’ fans, Vince and Ruth Wagg and their son Kyle, from Anchorage, Alaska, were visiting Kyle’s girlfriend, Tanya Pagero and her son Jayden, who live in Gilbert, Ariz. Their initial outing on Metro was for game two of the four-game series between the D-backs and the Braves. On Sunday, they boarded the train again to see a second game.
“We lived along the light rail line in Seattle and went to the Mariners’ games at SAFECO Field,” said Vince Wagg. “Riding METRO has been a good experience and it’s easy.” According to Kyle and Tanya, they like how convenient it is to get to the station and that they avoid the cost of driving to downtown and parking.
“It’s been a good experience, even though it’s crowded after the game,” said Kyle. “We plan to ride Metro to other sporting events, go to Mill Avenue in Tempe, and see the sites. It’s a lot less hassle.”
Game day passengers board at stations all along the 20-mile system traveling from the east and west areas of the 20-mile system to the Metro stop downtown located nearest the ballpark. There are thousands of game day passengers who cross the downtown station platform nearest the ballpark to attend D-backs and Phoenix Suns games, as well as concerts and a variety of other downtown events.
“When transit becomes more desirable than driving to a local sporting venue or social event, we know we’ve accomplished our objectives,” said Steve Banta, Valley Metro CEO.
Shown from left: Tony Rand, Gregory Solano, Anthony Martinez and Nicholas Garcia.
Taking the train to the game was easier and more convenient than driving, claimed Tony Rand from Queen Creek, Ariz. He and three of his friends boarded Metro at Sycamore station after making the drive from San Tan Valley in the southeast area of metropolitan Phoenix.
“It’s the guys’ day out today,” said Tony. “We are going to enjoy the game and take it easy as we ride to and from downtown in the air conditioning.” Claiming to be Braves and Angels fans, the group of four in their mid-twenties weren’t too concerned about the outcome of the game, just their first stop after getting off the train. They were headed to a neighborhood sports bar to grab a cold beer.
Despite it being a day of record-setting heat in April at 105 degrees, the light rail cars were cool and comfortable as the train stopped to pick up additional passengers at the stations heading west towards downtown. Upon de-boarding the trains, passengers were met at the station by local city ambassadors that helped riders navigate their way safely to Chase Field.
Great Bike Chase riders arrive for events at ballpark on Earth Day.
While some riders traveled by trains to get to the game, others took to the streets on bicycles as they joined in Valley Metro’s Great Bike Chase as a way to celebrate Earth Day.
The annual event, themed “One Less Car,” encouraged local residents to try bicycling to a D-backs game as a way to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Free bike valet parking was available to all riders, as well as a bike safety rodeo and stations offering free t-shirts, face painting, safety information and ice cold water.
More than 300 riders pledged to ride to Chase Field and many stayed to watch the game and cycle their way home afterward. A portion of the Great Bike Chase ticket sales helps to support additional bicycle racks at downtown Phoenix businesses, and in a separate initiative, the city is encouraging the mode by adding more bicycle lanes to downtown city streets.
In the metro Phoenix area, where the car has traditionally been considered the first option for travel, alternatives are being accepted and utilized. Seeking out new ways to explore the region, locals and visitors alike are now finding that on transit as well as other alternative modes…half the fun is getting there.