ASU students help guide future of public transportation in Phoenix

February 11, 2015

The future of public transportation in the greater Phoenix area could undergo some changes in the near future, and a group of Arizona State University graduate students appreciate the opportunity to assist.

The Phoenix Public Transit Department established a 35-member citizen committee to examine how to pay for public transportation and get public input. The department asked David Swindell, director of the Center for Urban Innovation in ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, to assist in creating a public survey to help collect data on how Valley residents feel about various public transit issues. A light rail train travels south along Central Avenue in Phoenix Download Full Image

“The community faces the sunset of the sales tax that currently supports operations and maintenance of the light rail and bus systems in five years,” says Swindell.

Swindell decided to not only undertake the project, but to also integrate graduate students from his PAF 502 Public Service Research II statistics class as part of their course study.

“This was an opportunity to work with real data,” says Master of Public Administration student Chelsea Chotena. “In classes we get a good overview of the theory, and professors can share case studies. But real information has challenges, and this was an opportunity to learn and grow.”

The team of 15 students built an online survey of 19 questions ranging from transit-related (which included socioeconomic and demographic topics that were aimed at highlighting respondents’ usage patterns) to service satisfaction and public opinion about the future of public transportation in the Phoenix region.

The students distributed the survey and received responses from more than 350 people who use public transportation (bus and/or light rail) frequently and from those who do not.

Here are some of the highlights from the data collected:

• Over two-thirds of bus users report being very or somewhat satisfied with bus service. Higher income riders are more satisfied with bus service than lower income riders, and female riders were more satisfied than male riders.

• Approximately 89 percent of light rail users report feeling safe riding the light rail during the day while only 71 percent say they feel safe riding at night.

• Nine out of 10 respondents agree or strongly agree that expanding bus and light rail services is important for the city’s future.

• Those favoring expansion of services prefer funding the expansion through an increase in the sales tax.

• Among respondents who do not use public transportation, the majority (54.2 percent) prefer that any expansion of services be paid for through increased fares. Those who use either light rail or bus services prefer any expansion be paid for through a gasoline tax. Respondents that use both light rail and bus services prefer expanded services be funded by an increased sales tax.

The survey and results were then compiled into a 34-page report and presented to the committee. Members gave Swindell and his students high marks. While students appreciated the praise, they were happy to gain experience working with actual data.

“Being able to understand and process data is critical,” Chotena says. “The experience gave me the most tangible, realistic approach for how to handle and manage data.”

Swindell was pleased that the Phoenix Public Transit Department came to the Center for Urban Innovation and the College of Public Services and Community Solutions for assistance with this project.

"It’s another illustration of the school’s and college’s commitment to the local community and to helping in the development of solutions to public problems,” Swindell says.

Written by Chris Hernandez

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


New program helps foster youth achieve college education

February 11, 2015

The Arizona foster care tuition waiver, a bill signed into law by former Gov. Jan Brewer in 2013, helps Arizona’s foster youth earn a college degree by offering free tuition. But getting students into college is just part of the goal. The current national graduation rate for foster youth falls below 5 percent.

A grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will launch a new program that aims to increase the success rate for foster youth in Arizona. Download Full Image

Bridging Success, piloted by the Arizona State University College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is designed to connect current and prospective students with resources so that foster care youth can both pursue and finish their college education.

Cynthia Lietz, associate dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions and principal investigator on the grant notes that while the program is administered through the college, it supports former foster youth in all programs at ASU. Lietz says that the program fits with the college’s model of collaboration to solve community challenges.

“Increasing graduation rates is a challenge that we can solve by putting the right support systems in place,” says Lietz. “We are not only providing these talented young people the chance to pursue an education, but the opportunity to reach for larger goals.”

“When I had the opportunity to come to ASU, I didn’t know what to do,” says Raymundo Cruz, an undergraduate student in the W. P. Carey School of Business and a Nina Scholar. “It can be overwhelming, and a resource like this helps put you in the right direction.”

The Bridging Success program will reach out to community members and organizations to raise awareness about the tuition waiver and support services available at ASU for former foster care youth. Working closely with ASU’s University Academic Success Programs, ASU admissions, financial aid and scholarships, housing and counseling services, the program will provide a network of services available to former foster care youth, and help staff and faculty understand the needs of youth who have been in foster care. Information and guidance will also be available to assist in streamlining the application process and ease the transition into the ASU community.

“I am so excited to see this take off,” says Cruz. “Once you are here, you realize that you can do whatever you want to do with your career.”

“The partnerships we are developing with units across ASU are a critical component of the Bridging Success program. By working together, we can reduce the barriers that can challenge youth who wish to pursue an ASU degree and get them connected to resources that will support them – from the first day of classes to graduation day. Bridging Success provides an opportunity for all of us to demonstrate that we are fully committed to improving the success outcomes for youth who have been in foster care,” says Jeanne Hanrahan, liaison, University Academic Success Programs Administration.

In an effort to increase retention rates for foster youth alumni enrolled at ASU, the program will provide ongoing support from a program coordinator and several master’s-level interns from the School of Social Work. Educational workshops and social events will be hosted throughout the semester, as well as a graduation celebration ceremony at the end of the semester.

Program staff will work closely with Bridging Success at Maricopa Community Colleges, a parallel program also funded by the Pulliam Charitable Trust, to increase recruitment efforts, assist students interested in transferring to ASU and work collaboratively with a joint community advisory council.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust was established after the 1997 death of Nina Mason Pulliam to support the causes she loved in her home states of Arizona and Indiana. For more information, visit the trust’s website at

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions