Every workday for the past two years, Nora Hermon has ridden Metro light rail to the 44th Street and Washington station and boarded a shuttle bus to get to and from her job at a Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport gift shop.
On Monday, Hermon couldn’t stop smiling while she rode the PHX Sky Train, a free automatic system connecting light rail, Sky Harbor’s East Economy Parking and Terminal Four.
“This is great,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a very big help.”
The first phase of the $1.6 billion project opened to the public at noon Monday, and many of the first passengers were sightseers eager to ride.
Betty Kepner of Phoenix said she and her husband, Craig, were unlikely to ride the PHX Sky Train to the airport because there isn’t long-term parking at the light rail station. However, that didn’t stop the couple from being among the first to ride on Monday.
“We just like to explore new things,” she said.
The driverless trains reach speeds of up to 38 mph and take about five minutes to travel between the light rail station and Terminal Four. They run 24 hours a day, with as little as three minutes between trips.
Lisa Graber, a flight attendant for US Airways, said five minutes is a nice difference from the 30 it usually takes to get from East Economy Parking to her gate.
“I’m just hoping it cuts down on time getting to work,” she said.
Both the Metro light rail and the East Economy Parking stops have kiosks where passengers can print boarding passes and an early bag check for people flying with US Airways or Southwest Airlines.
It stops on the third floor of Terminal Four, which Southwest, US Airways, British Airways and Air Canada fly out of.
An expansion set to open in 2015 will extend the system to Terminal Three, with a walkway to Terminal Two. Plan call for the last stage of the PHX Sky Train to continue to the Rental Car Center west of the airport.
Hamid Jabbar, who flew home from Dallas on Monday, said the Sky Train made his commute much simpler. Jabbar said he flies out of Sky Harbor every couple of months and usually takes the light rail from his home in Phoenix.
However, he said the Sky Train might not have many riders because most people will still just drive.
“I’ll probably be one of the few Phoenicians who use it,” he said.
Tressa Dittmer boarded at the East Economy Parking garage after hearing about PHX Sky Train on the news. She said she plans on using it when she returns from Columbus, Ohio, and on future trips to the airport.
“It’s new and it’s cooler,” she said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the PHX Sky Train is a step forward for developing both Sky Harbor and the city’s economy.
“If we’re having this conversation three or four years from now, we’ll have forgotten what life was like before Sky Train in terms of how we interact with Sky Harbor Airport,” Stanton said.