If an agreement between the city of Tempe and Valley Metro’s Regional Public Transportation Authority goes through, the private company will operate all of Tempe’s buses, including Express, FLASH and Orbit routes.
The city and Valley Metro could save between $800,000 and $1 million annually with this partnership, Valley Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said. Operating these busses is expensive, something ASU students know all too well. Many students use the city’s transportation system, and efforts to save expenditures by cutting times or routes or increasing prices have hurt them. Students have seen the price of Valley Metro’s U-Passes increase dramatically during the past few years, from free to $150 a year. Similar long-term passes cost even more for Valley residents who aren’t affiliated with the University, and Valley Metro will vote in December on whether to raise prices from $1.75 to $2.
Most of the free services offered during the holidays and events dissipated under an atmosphere of severe budget cuts. Students have surely noticed the subtle changes in routes, as all buses redirected courses to save a little money. Buses also cut stops, so the same routes that would stop every 15 or 30 minutes a few years ago can now leave commuters stranded for 30 minutes or an hour if they just miss the bus.
On one hand, the absorption of Tempe’s buses might signify a change in a more efficient direction. Valley Metro’s operators could ensure that city buses will adhere to a stricter schedule and will be able to maintain Tempe’s buses. The company’s busses tend to run more dependably than the Flash or Orbit, and while part of that is undoubtedly due to the madhouse that is traffic around the Tempe campus. On the other hand, a possible increase in charges that could come with the new operating system isn’t good news for families who live paycheck to paycheck and rely on Orbit services for day-to-day transportation. Orbit buses have been the only free source of transportation for residents.
The transfer of operations reminds students how important reliable and sustainable transportation is, especially in a University system. The Orbit certainly has its share of faults — it doesn’t always smell so nice, it doesn’t run late enough for students out on late-night excursions or those in need of a steady designated driver and there’s no place for students to place grocery bags, especially during peak times of travel. But students and Tempe residents have truly been very fortunate for the free transportation, especially considering higher costs of mass transit in cities like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. The Orbit services have been convenient for students, who can hop on and off even at non-bus stops, but perhaps the University can begin to take a more active approach on transportation within the city with University shuttles, making campus life more pedestrian-friendly in the process.
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