Scottsdale City Council candidates differ on approach to mass-transit options

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Voters will take to the Scottsdale polls Tuesday, Nov. 8 to elect three people to Scottsdale City Council and a mayor after foregoing a primary election process.

Scottsdale City Council candidates are Dan Schweiker and incumbents Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips while mayor candidates are Mayor Jim Lane and challenger Bob Littlefield.

The Scottsdale Independent and Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting two debates in addition to a weekly question-and-answer series provided by the Independent to help voters better understand where candidates stand on local issues that matter.

The first debate, sponsored by Comerica, will be Tuesday, Sept. 27, focusing on the mayor’s race while the second debate, Tuesday, Oct. 4, will focus on city council candidates.

Both debates are from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Resort by Hilton, 5401 N. Scottsdale Road and will be moderated by Scottsdale Independent Editor Terrance Thornton.

This week’s question-and-answer installment is on how these political candidates view the current and future needs of mass-transit options within Scottsdale city limits.

The mayoral race

Both Mayor Lane and challenger, Mr. Littlefield, agreed to respond to specific questions looking at the current and future needs for mass-transit options within Scottsdale city limits. This is what they had to say:

Bob Littlefield

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

Bob Littlefield

Bob Littlefield

The future of mass transit everywhere will be distributed, decentralized and flexible — exactly the opposite of the expensive, inflexible and business-destroying fixed rail which has been proposed by some as a “solution” to Scottsdale’s traffic mess. Just a few years ago who would have thought ride-sharing services and driverless cars were even possible? Now, they are turning up in cities across the USA, including ours.

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

The problem with our bus and trolley service isn’t just the frequency it is the routing. Every year the city of Scottsdale pays about $3 million to Valley Metro and the city of Phoenix for bus service. Yet, when you see a bus driving around in Scottsdale you seldom see more than a handful of passengers riding in it. This means Scottsdale taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth for what we spend on bus service. We must insist our bus contractors do a better job of routing the bus service they provide to us or we should spend that $3 million in more productive ways.

Jim Lane

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

I have always and repeatedly voted against Light rail being a part of Scottsdale’s future. I don’t think it fits and the disruption to so many small businesses, the backbone of our economy, would be terrible. Plus, many cities use Light Rail as a catalyst for downtowns or other economic development. Here in Scottsdale we are already blessed with a great downtown and other economic development concentrations.

That being said, I was honored to be elected as the chairman of MAG, the top transportation planning group in Maricopa County.  As such I fought for the funds needed to expand the 101 Freeway which is already making a big difference for all Scottsdale residents.

Additional help will come via enhancements to our existing bus system, which are critical to many workers in our tourism industry, Scottsdale’s largest. Additionally, new technologies in transportation such as ride-sharing (i.e. Uber, Lyft, etc) as well as self-driving cars are going to substantially change how transportation is planned and improved in the future.

Lastly, my opponent, at least in the recent past, has talked of Scottsdale transportation worsening because of new apartment projects. I hotly dispute this notion and it should be noted he voted for the densest and tallest apartment project in Scottsdale history, then too away the citizen’s rights to protest, favoring the developer with an “emergency clause” to eviscerate citizen rights.

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

Increasing frequency will be helpful, just as being early and effective adopters of new technologies will be too. Through our pro-business policies Scottsdale is blessed to have one of the top if not the top local economy in Arizona. As a result we must work with regional planning groups on the best ways to get workers to our employment centers.

The council race
City council candidates agreed to respond to specific questions looking at the current and future needs for mass-transit options within Scottsdale city limits. This is what they had to say:

Suzanne Klapp

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

Suzanne Klapp

Suzanne Klapp

I supported the recently approved Transportation Master Plan where buses and trolleys will provide the majority of public transportation options in Scottsdale. The plan designates two new circulator trolleys. One will serve the area east of Pima Road, north of Doubletree and southwest of the CAP canal, specifically providing a needed connection to our Via Linda Senior Center and one to serve businesses and residents both east and west of the Scottsdale Airport runway in the Airpark. With these new circulators, the current Hayden Road bus route will expand to serve Hayden Road from Shea Boulevard to Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. Also, a new 15-minute bus service will make one stop at Fashion Square and head north along Scottsdale Road with a second stop at the Thunderbird Road Park-and-Ride.

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

The plan anticipates more exploration of alternatives over the next few years. For today, currently planned service is sufficient. A good rule about some form of high capacity transit consideration is to examine current transit options that are stretched beyond their capabilities. A new 10-minute frequency bus route on Scottsdale Road, heading south from Fashion Square to the Tempe Light Rail transit station is not attracting high ridership levels. If this becomes a popular route, filled to capacity, then our attention could be turned to a more high capacity alternative.

Some innovative ride-sharing options should be explored as well, particularly to address concerns about connections to Sky Harbor Airport. Let’s have a conversation with the private sector about ride sharing vehicles from the airport that can stop along Scottsdale Road at each hospitality location from downtown to the hotels and resorts in northern Scottsdale. This kind of flexible alternative could be available in the relatively near future, as opposed to a fixed route solution.

Guy Phillips

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

Mass transit in Scottsdale is not only a subsidized endeavor but a misnomer because their is no transit of mass in Scottsdale.  If you check bus ridership you will see one or two individuals, which translates to about $7 per rider, costing the city thousands yearly just to provide the service.

We even stopped the hospitality Trolley, which is free, because of no ridership. So the question is: Will transit become more popular and prevalent in Scottsdale in the future? If Scottsdale becomes a city of low-level-income employees who can’t afford transportation then the answer is “yes.” If we remain an affluent society then no, because the wealthy will not get out of their Mercedes or Beamer to sweat in the sun for 15 minutes waiting for a lumbering bus to come along. In high-density cities like San Francisco or LA or New York or Chicago it works because of the density of buildings per population. Is that what we want to become?

I believe that any large municipality should provide a transit service for its residents, and Scottsdale certainly does that.  We have free trolleys to get around downtown and children to use to go to school. We also have a contract with Phoenix Metro to provide bus service on major routes. But unless Scottsdale’s population increases while the median wage decreases, I don’t think the future of transportation in Scottsdale will be a massive transit system.

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

Most definitely. With the advent of autonomous cars, Uber and Lyft, people will have more convenient, safe and comfortable means of travel in the future. God only knows what will be invented next!

Dan Schweiker

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

After spending much of the past 18 years working on transportation issues in the Valley, I know first-hand how important a vibrant, long-term transportation plan is for the health and future of a community. In Scottsdale, I believe that we need to start looking ahead and developing a plan for mass transit that puts an emphasis on economic development and easing much of the congestion that currently plagues our city.

Dan Schweiker

Dan Schweiker

By refusing to even discuss a mass transit option like Light Rail, we are limiting our options without even studying the art of the possible. While I think suggestions like a Light Rail route going up Scottsdale Road are unlikely and would do more harm than good, I believe we should explore other opportunities that make sense. It must make sense from a cost perspective and a capacity standpoint, but I do believe the future starts with at least discussing our options. Scottsdale needs to have an eye for the needs and wants of the future generations. Many of them are opting out of having a driver’s license and using ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and mass transit.

And let’s be realistic, our great neighbors, The Salt River Pima Community is working to develop the talking Stick area as a new sports hub. Overtime I imagine they would love to have baseball, hockey and basketball on their lands. If that happens, I would not be surprised to see Light Rail running up the reservation next to the 101 freeway. If that happens Scottsdale should try to get it to run across The McDowell corridor so it can service our employers and residents of south Scottsdale and SkySong. With that, we are going to have to develop bus and trolley connections from Talking Stick so their sports fans can easily get to Scottsdale’s vibrant restaurant and entertainment scene after the games

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

For the future of economic development in Scottsdale, we should take a close look on whether or not increased bus and trolley frequency is enough to keep pace with the growth in our city. Mass transit was a driving force behind Tempe landing the new $600 million State Farm facility and will continue to be a factor in recruiting businesses to set up shop in the Valley. Many of these companies will want to see more than simply more bus and trolley routes, so we need to explore all options to keep Scottsdale competitive for jobs within the Valley.

As your councilman, I would lead on transportation issues and build coalitions of support for long-term transportation goals. We need to remember that almost 90 percent of the employees in Scottsdale do not live here. We do not want each of them to drive one car to and from work. Nor do they want to. From my meetings with Scottsdale employers I hear all the time that their workers do not want to drive and look for places to park. They want mass-transit options to get to work. Plus, this will open up parking spaces downtown for our local merchants. We do not want visitors to give up on shopping in Scottsdale because they cannot find a place to park. We have to look beyond today and prevent future problems rather than letting them happen and then trying to some them.

Virginia Korte

•What do you believe will be the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale?

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

As I campaign throughout the city, one of the issues that most concerns citizens is “transportation.” They complain about traffic and the time it takes to get from place to place. I share the same concerns.

In many ways, traffic is a symptom of Scottsdale’s success. More people are coming here to live, work, shop and visit. That’s good for our economy and to keep our taxes low.

Our transportation issues are not going away. We import 83 percent of our workforce. The number of visitors increases every year. Right now there are no long-range plans, only short-term solutions. Solving our transportation issues will take creativity, innovation and vision.

Unfortunately, the majority of the city council is unwilling to explore all of our options to alleviate our traffic issues.  During our recent debate on the 20-year Transportation Master Plan, I advocated researching every foreseeable option for the future. Five of our seven councilmembers wanted to limit the study of choices. I strongly believe that is bad public policy and lacks leadership on one of our city’s most critical issues.

Because we lost the opportunity for a community-wide dialogue about transportation that included all options, finding solutions to our traffic issues was placed on a slow track.

I assure citizens that I will continue to lead the discussion to press for good transportation policy to address our present and future needs.

•Do you think increased bus and trolley frequency is sufficient for Scottsdale’s transit needs today and in the future?

Expanding our current bus routes, increasing bus service and continuing to build on the success of our trolley system are ways to address our most immediate transportation needs. But realistically those are not solutions that reach beyond today.

We need to begin planning for the future of our next generation of residents by researching all the possible transportation options available today and the ones now being developed for the future.
Transportation technologies are changing rapidly, as are lifestyles. Meanwhile, we have important decisions to make. We have a responsibility to future generations to make the best decisions now based on the best information we have today — because we cannot postpone the future.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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