The end of a year is often a time of reflection. It’s natural to look back on everything that happened, good and bad, and make plans for improvement in the new year. I’m sure many people will agree with me in thinking that 2020 was not a typical year, and we’re approaching the end of the year with immense relief that it’s finally over. It’s a year in which the biggest accomplishment may be that we adapted to unprecedented events.
No one expected COVID-19 or the wide-ranging impact it would have. Valley Metro and other mass transit agencies took a significant hit in ridership as Americans adapted to the fact that the virus spread easily from person to person. Numerous public events were canceled, and many businesses allowed their employees to work from home, eliminating the need for cross-town commutes.
COVID-19 prompted Valley Metro to implement several new safety precautions. Facial coverings are now required on buses and light rail vehicles. Passengers now board buses through their rear entrance in order to protect our operators. On light rail, sections of the train near the operator cab are closed to passengers. Valley Metro has also stepped up cleaning procedures on buses and light rail vehicles, including an innovative fogging system.
The decline in ridership has, of course, affected revenue. We’ve had to scale back service on certain bus routes and shave a few trains from our light rail schedule. We’ve also had to cancel some of our events for health reasons, like the fun Polar Express. Funding from the CARES Act has helped mitigate some of the losses of revenue. Even with all these challenges, Valley Metro remains committed to serving our community. People depend on Valley Metro to go to work, attend school, get to a doctor appointment, or shop for groceries, and we take that responsibility seriously.
Another challenge we met this year was the heavy rail derailment next to our light rail bridge over Tempe Town Lake. It was an incredible and dramatic event that sent black smoke into the sky that could be seen all over the Valley. The good news is that no one was hurt and that it didn’t cause any damage to Valley Metro property. We were able to reroute trains to avoid the area and use buses to make sure people could continue their commutes until service was resumed a few days later.
Despite the hardships, Valley Metro took steps to improve service. In fact, if there’s any silver lining to 2020, it may be that delays caused by construction of the South Central light rail extension aren’t as bad as they could be due to the fact that many people are telecommuting. New light rail trains have arrived to bolster the fleet in preparation for the new section of track. Construction of the Tempe Streetcar system is also going well, and service should begin in 2021. We’re expanding our Operations and Maintenance Center in order to service all the new vehicles. Our Customer Experience Coordinators have also been busy doing their part for the community, including participating in facial covering giveaways and helping the less fortunate with their Hatchback Fashions program.
The year 2020 has been tough for many Americans, as well as Valley Metro, but tough times make us stronger. We’re looking forward to an amazing 2021. We look forward to a time when COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror and we can resume the things that we cherish, like taking the light rail to a Suns game, or even resuming our usual bus commutes to save the environment and wear and tear on our vehicles. If you’re using Valley Metro now, thanks! We value your ridership. If you’re not ready yet, we understand, and we look forward to serving you. From all of us at Valley Metro, we hope you have a happy new year!