Getting Around Phoenix: Guide to Public Transportation

A Valley Metro NABI bus operates down 12th Street in Phoenix, Arizona.
Phoenix Bus. Christopher MacKechnie

Because the Phoenix metropolitan area totals approximately 14,600 square miles, public transportation isn't the easiest or most popular way to navigate the Valley. Most locals rely on cars, but as routes have expanded, public transportation has become a more viable option for many, including visitors. Here's what you should know about Valley Metro, the regional transit system in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

How to Ride the Valley Metro Rail

The 26-mile Valley Metro Rail, referred to simply as "the light rail" by locals, connects downtown Phoenix to Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport by way of the PHX Sky Train, which can be picked up at the 44th Street/Washington Street station. There are plans to expand light rail service into South Central Phoenix, West Phoenix, and further north.

From end to end, there are currently 38 stations. Eleven are park-and-ride stations, offering a combined 4,500 parking spaces. You can use Valley Metro's trip planner to find the best route to your destination using light rail and busses.

  • Fares: Single-ride tickets cost $2; an all-day pass is $4. Passes for seven days ($20), 15 days ($33), and 31 days ($64) are also available. Certain groups can get a discount—including seniors ages 65 and older, students, Medicare cardholders, and the disabled—children five and under ride for free with an adult. Passengers must have proof of eligibility to qualify for reduced fares. Read this article for detailed information on how to purchase tickets.
  • Routes and Hours: Valley light rail runs seven days a week. During peak hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the light rail trains depart every 12 minutes; the rest of the time, trains depart every 20 minutes. Trains start running at 5:00 a.m. The last full trip of the day on Monday through Thursday begins at 11 p.m., while on Friday and Saturday nights (Saturday and Sunday mornings), the last full trip begins at 2 a.m.
  • Service Alerts: You can learn about delays on all Valley Metro options, including light rail and buses, on its website under the rider alerts tab. To find out when the next train or bus will arrive, call (602) 253-5000, say "next ride," and then say or type the STOP# of the light rail station or bus stop. You can also text 22966 and enter the STOP# for a text indicating when the train or bus will arrive. (Standard text rates apply.)
  • Transfers: A one-ride ticket allows you just that: one ride. If you purchase a single-ride ticket for the light rail ($2), you will have to purchase another single-ride ticket to ride the bus ($2). If you plan to transfer, purchase a $4 all-day pass. With an all-day or multi-day pass, you can transfer between the bus and light rail as many times as you want before the pass expires at 2:59 a.m. the following morning.
  • Accessibility: Valley Metro's light rail trains and platforms, as well as buses, are all accessible. Platforms at the light rail stations have inclined walkways with railings, fare machines that meet ADA requirements, and announcements are made both audibly and visually. Inside the train, designated seating is available, and trained service animals are welcome. For more information about accessibility or to make reasonable modification requests, visit the Valley Metro website.

Riding the Valley Metro Bus System

In addition to the light rail system, Valley Metro operates the local, express, and RAPID bus services and rural and neighborhood circulars. This regional transit system covers 513 square miles. If you stay in downtown Phoenix or on main roads in Tempe and Scottsdale, it can be a budget-friendly way, along with the light rail and rideshare options, to explore the Valley without renting a car.

  • Fares: Rates are the same for the local buses as they are for light rail ($2 per ride or $4 for an all-day pass). Express and RAPID buses are $3.25 per ride or $6.50 for an all-day pass. Rural routes are $2 one way (same city) or $4 one way (multi-cities). Most neighborhood circulars are free except for the Avondale ZOOM, which is 50 cents per ride. The same discounts for light rail apply to the bus system.
  • Routes and Hours: Most local bus routes run from 5 a.m. until midnight. You can find timetables for all buses (plus the light rail) here. Click on the transportation mode you plan to take (local bus), click on the route, and click on the stop to see scheduled arrival times. The Valley Metro trip planner can help you determine which bus you need to take to your destination.
  • Service Alerts: Just as you would for the light rail, check Valley Metro's website for rider alerts or call or text (602) 253-5000. See above for more contact information.
  • Transfers: The all-day pass for $4 offers unlimited transfers between local buses and light rail. A one-way ticket ($2) is good for one ride on one bus.
  • Accessibility: Like its light rail, Valley Metro's buses are accessible.

How to Purchase Valley Metro Tickets and Passes

There are many ways to purchase tickets for Valley Metro's light rail and buses, including online and fare vending machines.

  • Fare Vending Machines: The easiest way to purchase tickets and passes is from a fare vending machine. (You'll find detailed information on how to purchase from a fare vending machine in this article.) Fare vending machines are located at each light rail station and accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards. Keep your receipt as proof of purchase.
  • Bus Fare Box: If you are taking one ride on the bus, you can insert cash ($2) in the bus farebox.
  • Transit Centers: Customer service windows at transit centers may sell tickets and passes when available.
  • Retailers: Many grocery stores, convenience stores, and retailers sell one-ride tickets and one-day or multi-day passes. Check the Valley Metro website to see where these tickets and passes are sold, and contact the retailer to confirm availability.
  • Online: You can purchase Valley Metro passes online; however, the passes will be mailed to you. They are not available to download or print. It also takes up to a week to process your pass, and all sales are final. There are no refunds or exchanges.

Tips for Getting Around the Valley

The greater Phoenix metropolitan area is one of the largest in the United States, with close to 5 million people. It's roughly the size of Delaware and encompasses more than 20 cities and towns. Getting around the Valley is relatively easy, though, if you keep these tips in mind:

  • Phoenix is laid out on a grid. Except for Grand Avenue, most streets in Phoenix run north-south and east-west. Baseline Road serves as the baseline with major streets located at one-mile intervals heading north; major streets are also located at one-mile intervals east and west of Central Avenue. For the most part, cities and towns throughout the Valley mimic Phoenix's grid layout, making it fairly easy to navigate.
  • Renting a car often makes the most sense. Public transportation doesn't always stop near major attractions or the resorts. Even when it does stop near a resort, you may have to walk a significant distance from the main road to the lobby and rooms, potentially carrying your luggage. On the other hand, renting a car costs significantly more, and resorts usually charge for overnight parking.
  • Stay in downtown Phoenix if you want to use public transportation. Most major hotels in downtown Phoenix are within walking distance of the light rail. You can take the PHX Sky Train from the airport to the 44th Street/Washington Street station and transfer to light rail. Many attractions, including the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, and the Arizona Science Center, are along the light rail's route. To see other Valley attractions, transfer to a bus or use a rideshare service.
  • Valley Metro Rail is ideal for events. Because parking in downtown Phoenix can be a challenge for sporting events, concerts, and First Fridays, consider parking at one of the park-and-ride lots and taking the light rail downtown. Light rail also stops at Mill Avenue and Third Street in Tempe, one block south of Tempe Beach Park, where many major festivals occur, and in front of Sun Devil Stadium, where Arizona State University plays Pac-10 football.