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Photos by Valley Metro, unless otherwise indicated

Tico, the orange- and purple-striped omnibus stamped with the omnipresent logo of the citys mid-70s bus mascot: a smiling sun wearing, incongruously, sunglasses.

Trolley's pals Metro and Tico: In a Pixar movie, they'd be animated as three doo-woppin' diesels, cheering on the speedy young supertram as it whisks yet another generation through the city's streets. (Photo: ElwoodBlues68 on Flickr.)

The Metro, the thoroughly cosmopolitan coach bus from the mid-1940s, hollers to today's downtowners to "Ride the Metropolitan Way" with its neon-scripted signage. (Photo: phxpma on Flickr.)

Trolley car from the 1930s, veteran from what was technically the city's first "light rail" experiment, the Phoenix Street Railway system. (Photo: phxpma on Flickr.)

Ol' No. 4607, flashing an approving grin through its wrap-around rows of compact train windows. (Photo: phxpma on Flickr.)

Before 2001, no Phoenix buses ran on Sundays, and Saturday night service halted at 8 pm. Tico was not a weekend partier, but he did get a lot of today's Valley adults to and from their first jobs. (Photo: Bob Redden.)

In addition to Tico's ironic shades, the nearly 40-year-old bus emblem was adorned with another iconic Southwestern accessory: a Mexican sombrero, symbolic of a kinder, gentler time when the city considered it simply good business sense to flaunt its Hispanic roots.

Published by CityCircles, May 2010

Light rail passengers shuttling by Valley Metro’s Central Station have become accustomed to seeing the three vintage buses docked at First Avenue and Van Buren Street, watching over the city’s newest experiment in mass transit like a street corner trio of aluminum-jacketed elders.

Regulars know them as Trolley, Metro and Tico: movers of millions back in their days, now comfortably retired to their nice little corner of the park. In a Disney Pixar movie, they’d be animated as three doo-woppin’ diesels, cheering on the speedy young supertram as it whisks yet another generation through the city’s streets.

But soon, those classic coaches will be leaving the street corner for good, as part of the city’s $5 million revitalization of the 2.6-acre hub. The program, funded by a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and green-lighted before constraints created by the city’s budget deficit, will transform the aging station into a smart showpiece of green design and cutting-edge technology. Plans call for the installation of energy-efficient shade features, thin photovoltaic solar cells on the roof of the ticketing and administration building, sustainable plumbing fixtures in the restrooms, LED lighting, Wi-Fi, and widescreen LED panels around the park for news and entertainment.

“The Central Station is really the centerpiece for the city’s transit system,” explains Mark Melnychenko, principal planner for the Phoenix Public Transit Department. “Especially since it’s now flanked by rail, and we have thousands of passengers that pass through there every day, we felt that this facility was in need of a facelift.”

The makeover, scheduled to begin in July and continue for nine months, will not disrupt bus service while the construction takes place. But it will bring a change to the central terminal’s image, re-casting it more as the light rail’s hip home pad, echoing the modern design motifs and signage features of the Downtown rail stops, while de-emphasizing transit’s links to the past. Those elements, like the 80-year-old streetcar and its heirs, were introduced around the Central Station’s last makeover in 1997, which was a bit more retro in design.

“The PCC car,” says Melnychenko, referring to the Pullman-manufactured double-ended coach of the 1930’s crowned the Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcar and considered a classic by bus geeks, "is going to be moved over to the Arizona Street Railway Museum in Chandler and put on display. The two buses – one of which is a 1940’s Metro coach, considered a historic vehicle – will be moved over to our south operating facility. We don’t know what will happen to them in the future, but we’re moving them offsite.” (Note that “Presidents” is the model name referring to the presidents of all the major turn-of-the-century rail companies, who pooled their design teams to create the ultimate trollie.)

Certainly it makes sense – and dollars – to link Central Station to METRO Light Rail’s fun Futurama image and phase out its connections to Grandpa’s commuter train.

But for some, the disappearance of Trolley, Metro and Tico is cause for remembrance. Together, the three represent tangible ties to public transportation’s past in the Valley, adding a heady dimension to riding the light rail today.

There’s ol’ No. 4607, a maroon and apricot trolley car from the 1930’s, veteran from what was technically the city’s first “light rail” experiment, the Phoenix Street Railway system, flashing an approving grin through its wrap-around rows of compact train windows. Bookending it is the Metro, the thoroughly cosmopolitan coach bus from the mid-1940’s, hollering to today’s downtowners to “Ride the Metropolitan Way” with its neon-scripted signage.

But the bus most familiar to Valley boomers is Tico, the orange- and purple-striped omnibus stamped with the omnipresent logo of the city’s mid-70s bus mascot: a smiling sun wearing, incongruously, sunglasses.

“I rode those buses a lot in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Cait Brennan, a native Arizonan and local pop culture historian. “Tico was definitely the best part of the experience, but the buses were also much cleaner and nicer than you’d think. Mainly because they ran like once every two hours, and carried very few riders — at least the ones that made it out into the wild desert boonies of 19th Avenue and Bell, where I lived.”

Pubcrawlers who pushed for later light rail hours may be surprised to learn that, before 2001, no Phoenix buses ran on Sundays, and Saturday night service halted at 8 pm. Tico was not a weekend partier, but he did get a lot of today’s Valley adults to and from their first jobs.

In a way, it may be best that Tico go into hiding for a while. In addition to the ironic shades, the nearly 40-year-old bus emblem was adorned with another iconic Southwestern accessory: a Mexican sombrero, symbolic of a kinder, gentler time when the city considered it simply good business sense to flaunt its Hispanic roots.

“Tragically, I believe Arpaio had him arrested and deported, along with Acquanetta, the cast of Channel 10’s Niños Contentos and the kids who sang the Hepatitis Song,” Brennan jokes. “He’ll be missed."

As part of the city's $5 million revitalization of the 2.6-acre Central Transit Station, the aging station will be transformed into a smart showpiece of green design and cutting-edge technology. Plans call for the installation of energy-efficient shade features, thin photovoltaic solar cells on the roof of the ticketing and administration building, sustainable plumbing fixtures in the restrooms, LED lighting, Wi-Fi, and widescreen LED panels around the park for news and entertainment.