Providing Public Transportation
Alternatives for the Greater
Phoenix Metro Area

History and Local Funding

In 1985, the Arizona State Legislature passed a law enabling the citizens of Maricopa County to vote on a sales tax increase to fund regional freeway improvements and provide for the creation of the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA).

In October of that year, Maricopa County voters approved passage of a proposition that approved a one-half cent sales tax to fund freeway construction with a portion, or $5 million per year (inflated annually), as seed money for regional transit service expansion. The RPTA received this funding through 2005 and was charged with developing a regional transit plan, finding a dedicated funding source for transit, and developing and operating a regional transit system.

In 1988, the residents of the city of Scottsdale passed a transportation tax that allowed funding for transit and transportation projects.

In 1993, the RPTA Board of Directors adopted Valley Metro as the identity for the regional transit system. The Valley Metro name and graphic design were chosen to give all buses a more recognizable identity and to help unify public transit systems in the Valley. The Valley Metro logo and purple and green paint scheme have been incorporated into the region’s fleet of bus, vanpool and dial-a-ride vehicles. In addition, a number of cities have adopted this regional identity into their fleet of vehicles.

In 1996, the city of Tempe residents passed a half-cent sales tax dedicated for transit, allowing them to expand their existing bus service and explore future options, such as light rail.

In 1998, the city of Mesa residents passed a quality-of-life half-cent sales tax, which dedicated a small portion for transit, with the remainder going toward parks and recreation, and police and fire departments.

In 2000, the city of Phoenix residents passed a four-tenths of a percent sales tax for improvements to local bus service, Bus Rapid Transit (began in 2003), Light Rail (beginning 2008), Neighborhood Mini-Bus Service, and more.

In 2001, the city of Glendale residents passed a half-cent sales tax dedicated for transit and other transportation improvements. Its transit plan was modeled after the city of Phoenix’s plan.

In 2004, Maricopa County residents extended the half-cent county-wide sales tax originally authorized in 1985. The tax allocates over one-third of tax revenues, or $5.8 billion (before inflation) for transit, including light rail.

In 2005, Peoria voters approved a three-tenths cent sales tax increase dedicated to funding transportation projects and services in Peoria. For the next 20 years, this dedicated revenue source will fund more than $200 million in projects that a citizen committee has identified as critical to the city’s transportation infrastructure.

Funding from AZ Lottery Funds

In March 2010, the State legislature repealed a large portion of money ($22 million annually in Maricopa County out of $34 million statewide) that has supported public transportation services in the Valley for 30 years. These funds were supplied by Arizona Lottery revenues. The reduction of lottery funds was made retroactive to February 1, 2010. A total of $51 million was taken from the fund since 2010.

Prior to the repeal of funds, members of Valley Metro were required to spend lottery revenues from the Arizona state lottery on public transportation. An agency with a population of 300,000 or more was required to spend all of its lottery funds on transit services. Agencies of 60,000 to 300,000 were required to commit at least one-third of their lottery funds to transit and those with populations of less than 60,000 were required to commit three-quarters of the lottery funds to transit services. Lottery revenues were also originated from the national powerball lottery and RPTA acted as a pass-through agent for jurisdictions receiving this funding for public transportation. Member agencies were required to apply for this transportation funding.

The transportation fund is part of a state implementation plan, as required by the Clean Air Act, to meet the national ambient air quality standards. Maricopa County, particularly the Phoenix metro area, has failed to meet those standards. In 1993, the plan was developed, including using lottery monies to put in the transportation fund. But in 2010, Governor Jan Brewer repealed that provision and eliminated the fund to fill a budget hole. 

In September 2011, the Center for Law in the Public Interest won a court ruling that only applies to Maricopa County, since it is the only region that includes a Clean Air Act court order. The court said in 2010, that the legislature and Governor Brewer had no power to pass and sign HB 2012, a bill that eliminated the local transportation assistance fund. Restoration of the lottery funds translates to about $16.2 million per year for Maricopa County cities and towns beginning in September 2011.