When Phoenix Had Streetcars

This article appeared in the Arizona Republic years ago.

WHEN PHOENIX HAD STREETCARS, by Jim McAllister

Here is a question to test your knowledge of Phoenix transportation history: Where did the slogan “Ride a Mile, and Smile the While” originate?

This is a tough one and if you are not a long time resident of the Valley, be prepared to say “Huh?” The answer is that it was the slogan of the Phoenix Street Railway, a company that provided trolley streetcar service in Phoenix from 1887 until 1948. Within the next couple of years, Phoenix will have a light rail system but any similarities between it and the old Phoenix Street Railway are coincidental.

The first public streetcars in Phoenix were horse drawn and ran between 7th Street and 7th Avenue. By 1893 the system was electrified and expanded to 8 miles of track. By 1911 there were 17 miles of track within the city and a 12 mile track to Glendale. Fares in Phoenix were 5 cents and a ride to Glendale cost 35 cents one way. By 1925 the streetcar line was in disrepair and the owner, a Mr. Sherman, offered the dilapidated company to the City of Phoenix. For $20,000 Phoenix was suddenly in the streetcar transportation business.

By 1929, the first indication of the decline of streetcars took place when the city added 2 motorized buses to the streetcar fleet. In October of that year the Depression ensued and caused a drastic disruption in service. This was due in large part to raised fares and bad service. By 1933, maximum service had returned along with the old 5 cent fare which pulled the company out of a slump.

During 1937, eleven more motorized buses were added to the fleet thus reinforcing the coming doom of the streetcars. By 1940, the decision was finally made to eliminate the remaining streetcars in favor of motor buses. Because of World War II, the streetcars managed to hold on until 1948 when in February of that year, the final 7 cars were retired.

Thus ended the streetcar era in Phoenix and many other cities in the U.S. at about the same time. The buses were more flexible in their routes and cheaper to operate. Today, you can relive trolley history at the Phoenix Trolley Museum at 1218 N. Central. It’s a fun trip back to an era that will never return.

You can read more about the Phoenix Trolley Museum on their website or their Facebook page.

Here’s a relevant Niki D’Andrea New Times article.

And here’s an earlier ScottsdaleTrails article which references the Phoenix Street Railway.

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2 Comments

  1. I remember riding the streetcar from 3rd Street, east down Washington almost to the capital. I was in the fourth and fifth grades at the time. My mother would give me a nickel for the fair and I would go spend a few hours with my girlfriend at her grandmothers house. As young as I was it was safe in those years. Those streetcars were so noisy and clanked so much I thought they would fall apart at any given moment. It did seem strange to me that when I went back home , in order to catch the streetcar I had to go out and stand out in the middle of the street and wait for it to come. (Naturally it couldn’t leave the tracks!) However, I loved riding in them. Now, 80 years later, I cherish those memories like they were yesterday! I was born and raised in Phoenix.

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