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transit

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The transportation plan looks at current and proposed lighted intersections.

The final edition of the Maricopa Area Transportation Plan (ATP) debuted Tuesday night at a city council work session.

The report, compiled by Wilson and Company of Phoenix with a price tag of $75,000, examines the transportation needs of Maricopa, both now and into the future. Most of the burden of the study’s cost was paid for by Maricopa Associations of Governments (MAG) through the Arizona Department of Transportation and the additional $30,000 was credited as staff work by the city of Maricopa.

The study examined the transportation needs inside the city. The final report will be submitted to the city council for approval on Feb. 19.

Amy Moran, senior project manager for Wilson and Company, told the council members Tuesday the study’s purpose was to provide guidance for the connectivity of collector and local facilities to the arterial and parkway facilities identified in the ATP, develop Access Management Guidelines for use by city staff and initial efforts focus on incorporated area for proof of concept before expanding to entire planning area.

Amy Moran, senior project manager for Wilson and Company. Photo by Jim Headley

Moran said the anticipated needs of traffic signals in the city should remain at the half-mile and mile intervals that is currently being practiced. There are a few exceptions to those needs as traffic patterns dictate, she said.

Moran also presented the Transit Demand Study prepared by her company.

Moran told the council members Tuesday the study’s purpose was to identify potential transit service enhancements, to address existing and future needs of residents and visitors, to improve current services, to expand services within the city, address regional connectivity needs and anticipate influence of changing technologies.

During her presentation, Moran said current regional service needs, in order of importance, are to Chandler, then Tempe, Ahwatukee/South Phoenix and Casa Grande. She said projected needs in 2040 will remain the same but their order of importance should change to Chandler, Casa Grande, Tempe and Ahwatukee/South Phoenix.

She proposed a new route to someday take people to Tempe and Sky Harbor Airport.

Both the Transit Demand Study and the Area Transportation Plan will be presented to the city council for approval on Feb. 19.

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Transportation planner David Maestas with a COMET van. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson.

When the City of Maricopa formally unveiled its bus-stop shelters in October, there was a jump in ridership within a couple of days.

“Attribute that to recognition that, yes, there is a transit system,” Transportation Planner David Maestas said.

In fact, City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) has been around in one form or another since 2008. That it continues to lie below the awareness level of many Maricopans is a source of frustration and repeated questions about the operation of at least one aspect of the service.

By the transportation department’s numbers, COMET had a ridership (individual boardings) of 7,344 during fiscal year 2017-18. That was an increase of 14.5 percent from the previous year.  The projection for 2018-19 is 8,665, a continuation of a four-year increase.

Those are budget numbers. The last time the city delivered a head count of “unique passengers” rather than boardings was FY 2015-16, when that number was 1,713.

On the ground, the regional demand-response service (dial-a-ride) averages 8.6 riders per trip to medical offices in Chandler or Casa Grande.

The 2018-19 budget for COMET is $354,000. The local share of that was $129,000 while federal grants pick up the bill for the rest. The projected number of trips to be taken during the same fiscal year is 8,665, making the per-trip cost to the City more than $14.84. Overall, the cost per-ride is $40.85.

For riders, the cost of local demand-response is $1 per one-way trip. For regional demand-response, it is $3 per round trip. For the local fixed route, which is the service that uses the new bus-stop shelters, the fare is 50 cents per boarding.

By comparison, in the tri-city area of Prescott a nonprofit operates the Yavapai Regional Transit that started as a municipal service in 2008. It is primarily comprised of three fixed routes. A one-way fare is $2 for adults and $1 for seniors, disabled and kids. The curb-to-curb, demand-response service is for seniors and individuals with mobility disabilities at a fare of $1; anyone else pays $5.

In Maricopa, the demand-response is “the least effective mode of transportation that we’ve got,” Maestas said. “It’s probably the worst of our services when it comes to availability.”

However, he said, an important reason the City continues to operate demand-response “is to make sure that we have viable transportation for seniors. It is [a Federal Transportation Administration] requirement that we have to continue operating a dial-a-ride to serve the complementary transit.”

Two statements Maestas has repeated frequently are “we are growing COMET slowly and carefully” and “COMET was never meant to be self-sustaining.”

For 2019-20, the requested budget is planned at $440,000, with the local amount due to be $169,000.

The route-deviation service (fixed route) runs empty loops through the city some days. Getting more Maricopans aware of the service is one challenge; making them aware they need the service is another.

“It takes people to change their habits,” said Chris Hager, director of TotalRide’s transit operations.

The City contracts with TotalRide to run the COMET system. Hager said it is “probably the smallest” system his company operates, but it is just as important as systems in Phoenix, Avondale and Tucson.

“We are very much in the process of increasing ridership primarily on the route-deviation service,” Maestas said. “That’s a careful process that’s best done slowly.

“What happens is when you start a brand-new service and choose to fund it very generously, you’ve got a huge amount of expense chasing new riders that in many cases don’t even know there’s a transit system in place,” he said. “When you’re just getting started up, you have no bus shelters, you have no bus-stop signs, you may not even have bus stops identified. It’s a process of the ridership recognizing that the transit system is in place and choosing to try it.”

Unlike the demand-response service, which picks up riders at a reserved time and place, the route-deviation service has 11 specific stops, some now with bus-stop shelters. The vehicles run from Fry’s to Bashas’, Pinal County Public Health Clinic and the Maricopa Public Library, Legacy Traditional School, Central Arizona College, Walmart, Harrah’s Ak-Chin and UltraStar, Copper Sky, Sun Life Health Center, Maricopa Meadows Park and Sun Life Women’s Center.

“It is our vision to provide route-deviation service full-time, seven days a week, with council approval, including shuttles to connect communities to the central routes,” Maestas said. As far as ridership-vs.-cost, “we’re still in the process of growing ridership to make sure we can sustain it.”

While TotalRide wants to connect more of the demand-response riders to the route-deviation system, dial-a-ride is still necessary, even if fares need to be adjusted in the future.

Hager said the purpose is to provide “a safe transit system people can depend on. You can’t put a cost on a transit system that gets people to medical appointments. If it’s my mother or grandmother, I don’t care if they charge $50 or $100, as long as she’s safe because she can’t drive.”

 


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Mayor Christian Price (center) along with city and college personnel cut a ribbon at the COMET bus shelter at CAC. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With five bus shelters in place, another being finished and six more planned, the City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) system is in a new phase.

Mayor Christian Price cut the ribbon on a bus stop at the Central Arizona College campus Wednesday morning.

“It’s really a great opportunity to find new ways to move people around the city,” Price said, “especially as we move into our retail areas.” He touted the wide array of residents who use the transit system, from students to seniors.

Bus shelters are also at Legacy Traditional School, which is across Regent Drive from the college, Fry’s Marketplace, Pacana Park and Copper Sky. The shelters serve the “route deviation” service of COMET, which is a specific route around the city. COMET also runs a demand response, dial-a-ride service, which picks up riders wherever they are located and takes them to wherever they need to go. There are also shuttles that take riders to Chandler and Casa Grande.

Rebekka Harris, a CAC student living in The Villages at Rancho El Dorado, said she has used COMET at times when her sister needed her car. It was not only convenient, she said, but also a chance to have a captive audience and chat someone’s ear off, “because that’s my brand.”

Though the COMET has served the CAC campus for a while, the bus stop was just a post. Now it is at the main entry with seating and shelter.

“I like the fact that there’s a bus stop here, because before I was like, ‘Where do I stand? Do I stand in the cactus; do I stand up there?'” Harris said. “So I like having this here.”

The City operates COMET under the auspices of TotalRide, so drivers like Helena Dobers are employed by both. She drove a school bus, including the summer Copper Sky route, for three years before coming on board COMET full time this year. “And it’s been beautiful,” she said.

City Transit Planner David Maestas (center) and TotalRide General Manager Chris Hager talk with COMET driver Helena Dobers.

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A COMET bus awaits riders in Maricopa. Photo by Michelle Chance

 

The Maricopa City Council approved an application for federal transit funds Feb. 6. But those funds are just part of the budget puzzle for city transportation.

COMET Ridership (trips per year)
Year ending
June 2013: 2,695
June 2014: 2,714
June 2015: 3,142
June 2016: 4,814
January-December 2017: 6,739

Development Services Director Martin Scribner said the Section 5311 grant from the Federal Transit Administration is something the city applies for every two years. By continuing to do so, the FTA remains informed about the goals of the city, making it more likely to continue to receive the funds, which make up more than half of the transportation department’s budget.

For the next two fiscal years combined (2018-20), the proposed budget for the City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) is just under $924,000. Of that, $579,000 is from federal funds, leaving $344,366 to be paid locally.

That is where the recently passed Pinal Regional Transportation Authority could come into play. The plan provides $1 million annually to transit systems in the county. Though it has not been determined how much would come to Maricopa, it could be applied to offset COMET’s hit to the city budget.

The RTA may go into effect in April, but there is an active lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute attempting to stop it. However, there is not an injunction in place.

If the half-cent sales tax goes into effect and pays out money to transportation and transit projects for a year, and then the court rules against the RTA, Councilmember Marvin Brown questioned whether the used funds would be expected to be returned.

Mayor Christian Price said the tax collection will proceed if there is no injunction. He said there are a number of theories and “potential variances” at hand if a court rules in favor of the Goldwater Institute after money has been collected.

As for COMET, the city is hoping to use a combination of federal funds and funds from the RTA tax to purchase six more bus stop shelters to cover all 11 current stops on the scheduled route and have one as a reserve.

 

Rendering of proposed bus shelter courtesy City of Maricopa

City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) has fixed and on-demand routes in Maricopa.

The City of Maricopa Express Transit system, or COMET, has started a survey among its senior passengers, a move officials hope will help improve service and ensure transparency within the agency.

The city, with the help of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, designed the survey to get a level of input far beyond typical rider satisfaction. The new survey asks specific questions concerning pick-up locations and the frequent destinations of its senior riders.

It also asks why seniors would possibly be more likely or less likely to use the service.

“The purpose of the survey is to better understand the public transportation needs of the senior population (over age 50) in Maricopa,” said Transportation/Transit Planner David Maestas.

He said the department wants the survey to better help them satisfy current transit demands while preparing the system for future population growth.

“The overall strategy is to grow COMET slowly and carefully in order to ensure reliability and sustainability, key elements in transit operations,” Maestas said.

Between June of 2015 and June of 2016 the COMET system catered to a little more than 4,700 riders. By June of 2017 COMET is projecting an annual ridership of around 6,800, an increase of 43 percent.

COMET offers a Route Deviation Service or fixed-route service that uses 11 stops throughout the city and operates Monday to Friday, 7-10 a.m. and 2-5 p.m., visiting each stop six times.

However, plans are in the works that could expand operating time from 7 a.m.to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday by October 2017, if approved by the city council and Arizona Department of Transportation.