Crazy Train

Written by Chris Fiscus Category: Valley News Issue: April 2012
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This is the issue that perplexed Valley Metro officials when Light Rail opened in December 2008. For instance, eating is not allowed while riding. And surrendering one’s seat to an older or infirm rider is customary. People tend to forget such mundanities, so how do you get their attention? Or, in the words of Valley Metro marketing officer Mario Diaz, “How do you take a dry topic like fare vending machines and do something with it that’s fun?”

Valley Metro’s answer: Enlist some of the city’s best home-grown bands to record original songs about public transit, and create animated videos to bring them to life. Call it Schoolhouse Rock meets local transit.

Dubbed “Valley Metro Notes,” the year-old campaign mirrors the humorous passenger-awareness videos that have become fixtures in Las Vegas-McCarran Airport and other mass transit hubs. In one chuckle-worthy video called “How to Ride the Bus,” a guitarist tries to pay his fare with chickens. Available for viewing on Valley Metro’s website (, the productions connect with the all-important “younger demographic” while providing up-and-coming local bands with a revenue stream and marketing tool. Participating bands hand out posters and transit information at gigs, show up at transit events, and promote the videos through social media.

“We are big supporters of public transit. We use it when we can, especially when doing things Downtown,’’ says Jeff Bump, singer and guitarist for Valley alt-country rockers Mill’s End. “People should use it more. It helps ease traffic and in turn eases pollution, so we thought that if our song was to be used in a commercial, it should be for something worthwhile.”

Valley Metro marketing chief Heidi Gracie says the topics addressed in the videos were solicited directly from customers and riders – people with concerns about safety, convenience and other practical matters. Thus, we get an upbeat, horn-laden reggae song from ska-punk party band Captain Squeegee about the importance of being a courteous rider, and a soulful ode to reduced fares from Tempe funksters Black Carl. “We didn’t want [the bands] to just write us a jingle,’’ Gracie says. “We wanted their spirit in the songs.”

That wasn’t difficult for Mitch Freedom of What Laura Says, a father tasked with writing a song about child safety. “When you enter parenthood, there’s a switch that is automatically flipped in terms of safety,’’ he says. “Public transit can be a potentially dangerous situation if you aren’t aware of the processes and your surroundings, so I just whipped up a little ditty.”

Envisioned as a three-year campaign, Valley Metro Notes features eight videos, with two more Black Carl-written songs due this summer. There’s no shortage of fodder for “Conjunction Junction”-style treatment of grammar-dry transit dictums. “We’re just getting started,” Diaz says. “We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Tracking Light Rail - Facts and figures about the Valley Light Rail system three years after its debut.
• According to an internal study, 83 percent of Valley Metro riders would recommend public transit to their friends – a 10-point increase between April 2010 and April 2011.

• Between 2010 and 2011, bus ridership rose 5 percent and Light Rail ridership rose 9 percent; 21 percent of all riders say they’ve been riding 12 months or less.

• With an estimated 40,600 daily boardings, METRO Light Rail now ranks 13th in the nation out of 35 light rail lines. (METRO’s 2,030 boardings-per-mile figure also ranks 13th.)

• A Light Rail extension from Bethany Home to Dunlap was pushed from 2012 to 2023. The Mesa extension from Main Street to Mesa Drive is expected to meet its 2016 start-up date.