Sep 6, 2023 - Transit

Microtransit is here, but few Valley cities looking to continue its spread

The back of a white van with purple and yellow markings with a small ramp extending from an open side door.

A vehicle from Avondale's WeRIDE fleet. Photo: Courtesy of the City of Avondale

Microtransit programs are on the rise in Arizona and nationwide, but beyond a few Valley cities, there's little interest in implementing the rideshare-style system.

Catch up quick: Microtransit programs generally allow riders to use a mobile app to hail on-demand shared cars that pick them up at virtual stops.

  • Avondale, Goodyear and Surprise use WeRIDE microtransit. Glendale has a system called Glendale OnBoard, while Chandler implemented its own system.
  • Tolleson also has a microtransit program that uses Uber and Lyft, with riders paying a $2 base fare, as well as any costs exceeding $17 per ride.

Why it matters: Microtransit provides public transport in areas that lack access to traditional fixed-route mass transit, like buses or light rail.

  • Pickup and drop-off spots are typically more numerous than bus or rail stops, meaning riders don't have to walk as far, and the system can drop off passengers directly in front of their destinations.
  • They can also be used to transport riders to express bus stops or light rail stations.

State of play: Buckeye is the only Valley city that tells Axios Phoenix it's actively implementing a microtransit program.

  • "We will begin evaluating microtransit, circulators and other options and this process can take several months," spokesperson Daniel Bronis tells us, adding that the costs are unknown.
  • Scottsdale is interested in implementing microtransit for "first and last mile connectivity to fixed and trolley routes" and in the Old Town area, and is researching similar programs, spokesperson Holly Walter says.

Zoom in: Several municipalities said the cost of the programs is a contributing factor to their lack of interest.

  • Apache Junction, Fountain Hills and Gilbert said they have no plans for microtransit for that reason.
  • Phoenix doesn't intend to implement microtransit, but public transit spokesperson Carmen DeAlba Cardenas says there's been discussion and the city is eyeing federal grant opportunities.
  • Mesa and Peoria left open the possibility of implementing microtransit in the future, but have no current plans.

Between the lines: Microtransit programs aren't financially self-sustaining, so cities must find funding sources.

  • Avondale uses local funding combined with federal transit dollars.
  • Glendale funds its program through a half-cent sales tax that's separate from the Proposition 400 sales tax for transportation.
  • Chandler, which focused its program on K-12 student transportation, received a $2 million grant from the education advocacy group A for Arizona to run its microtransit program for two years, and is looking for other federal, regional and local dollars.

Meanwhile, Tempe is unusual in the Valley, with its high-density population and job market, so higher-capacity mass transit makes sense, spokesperson TaiAnna Yee tells Axios Phoenix.

  • "Our top priorities are moving as many people as possible and fitting the best transportation mode to our area demographics," she says.
  • Microtransit could be a viable option for less dense areas of Tempe, Yee says, but the city has no immediate plans.
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