TEMPE, AZ — The new Tempe streetcar service is preparing for the return of Arizona State University students this month while continuing to eye an expansion to Mesa.
"I feel it's really convenient," said ASU graduate student Hui Hanj. "The frequency is high and it can almost get me directly from my apartment to ASU."
The bright neon streetcar can be seen winding its way on the rails, making stops at businesses, housing, retail, and restaurant areas along the route.
According to Valley Metro, there were 23,775 boardings during the first month of operation.
Streetcar operators say they've seen a steady increase in ridership as more people find out about the free service and for special events like The Lion King performance at ASU Gammage. But their main priority now is preparing for ASU students returning to campus in August.
"Oh my gosh, I love it!" said ASU student Samantha Walsh. "I use it almost every day now to get to and from work. I don't have a car in Tempe and it's just so helpful to get everywhere pretty much that I need to go."
With streetcars arriving every 15 to 20 minutes, passengers say they're grateful to escape the heat.
"It's so nice to have the AC," said ASU student Maddy Keller. "It's really a break instead of having to walk everywhere and just drip sweat so I appreciate the fact that it's air-conditioned for sure."
While early in the planning phase, Valley Metro continues to eye streetcar expansion into Mesa.
In a feasibility study released in 2020, they identified five corridors that a town streetcar could potentially serve including Rio Salado Parkway East, Rural Road, Dobson/Southern/Country Club, Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway West.
Valley Metro officials say they're currently in the process of identifying funding sources for the Mesa expansion, but their main focus is making sure Tempe passengers are off to a smooth ride.
"It doesn't cost anything for like the first year!" Walsh said. "I'm gonna use it as much as I can while it's free."
Riders know they'll have to scoot over and make room when the rest of their fellow Sun Devils return in a few weeks.
"I'm a little bit concerned about that, but I think it's going to be fun because there are so many cars coming every few minutes," Hanj said.
"I'm soaking up all the quiet stops before the students get here," Walsh said.