Phoenix is a typical American car-centred city. Newcomers moving from places with sophisticated public transport systems such as New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco might be in for a shock. With the exception of Light Rail, which is only a viable option for those living in Tempe or along the downtown Phoenix corridor, public transport options in Phoenix are seriously lacking.
As the city’s population grows, there has been mounting pressure for local authorities to improve public transit. Local residents are not only concerned by rising petrol (gas) prices, but by the impact that more cars on the road is having on the valley's air quality. Despite there being plans in the pipeline for expansion of public transport infrastructure and the introduction of streetcars, progress has been incredibly slow. New arrivals are likely to find that having a car in Phoenix brings them greater freedom, making their lives infinitely easier.
Public transport in Phoenix
Valley Metro is the authority that oversees the public transportation networks in Phoenix. Residents can consult the Valley Metro website to plan their journey and to check on any service disruptions.
Phoenix’s light rail system is an affordable way of getting around the city centre. It is, however, mainly useful to visitors to the city as there is just a single route that runs through the downtown area and the stops are almost all located close to points of interest.
Trains run every 10–12 minutes during rush hour and 15–20 minutes otherwise. Even though the light rail services aren’t really extensive in terms of the area they cover, trains do run till midnight on weekdays and till around 3am over the weekend.
While Phoenix's bus network is fairly extensive, most residents report that services rarely run to schedule and are generally unreliable. That said, fares are pretty cost effective and there are discounted daily, weekly and monthly passes available for people who use buses regularly.
The bus network runs from 5am to 12am but the frequency of services and operational hours do vary from one route to the next, so we recommend expats consult the schedule when planning a journey.
Taxis in Phoenix
There are a handful of reputable taxi companies operating in Phoenix. Prominent taxi operators include Phoenix Cab Company and Yellow Cab Arizona. Taxis are readily available in the downtown area close to major attractions and light rail stations. If, however, one is travelling to or from the suburbs it is best to call ahead and book a vehicle. Taxi fares are reasonable but considering the vast distances between places in Phoenix, costs can easily mount up if taxis are used regularly.
E-Hailing services in Phoenix
E-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are fairly well established in Phoenix. Using these platforms is a more cost-effective way of getting around than using conventional taxis, and they are convenient too. Users simply need to download the app onto their smartphone and register for the service using their credit card.
Driving in Phoenix
The vast majority of Phoenix residents use a car as their primary mode of transportation. Anyone planning to relocate to Phoenix will find that having a car will give them more freedom and flexibility when it comes to getting around.
New arrivals will soon find their bearings in Phoenix as the city streets are fairly easy to navigate. The area is designed around a grid system where most roads are numbered according to their distance from the city centre. Nearly all roads also have a compass direction added to further clarify locations. Areas outside the Phoenix city limits such as Tempe, Avondale and Chandler operate on their own grid systems.
A major downside associated with driving in Phoenix is that the city’s extensive network of freeways seems to be continually expanding. Constant roadworks and road closures mean that traffic congestion can be terrible at times.
Another fact to note is that Phoenix has some of the strictest drink-driving laws in the US. DUI laws are extremely strict and police traps are in place all over the city. Mandatory jail and massive fines make it unwise to take a risk when it comes to driving. Therefore, if one is expecting to have a big night out it is best to appoint a designated driver or arrange to use taxis or e-hailing services to get home.
Cycling in Phoenix
Despite the great weather and flat terrain, Phoenix hasn't always been bicycle friendly, but the city authorities have made a concerted effort to reinvent the metro area so that it is more conducive to cyclists. They have created a network of dedicated cycle lanes and easy-to-navigate paths and bridges so cyclists can avoid busy roads, and safe bike storage facilities have been introduced on the streets as well as on public transport.
Grid Bikes is the official bike-sharing scheme that operates through Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale. Users simply sign up for an account using their credit card. Once registered, they are able to pick up a bike from one of the many docking stations using their pin numbers. Those who plan on using the system regularly can look into signing up for a weekly, monthly or annual package which will allow them to make significant savings.
In addition to resources of those that commute by bike, there are also a number of scenic cycle routes and desert trails for leisure cyclists.
Walking in Phoenix
Despite the city sprawl and soaring summer temperatures, new residents will find that there are many parts of Phoenix that are best explored on foot. Even though walking may not be a viable form of commuting, taking a pleasant stroll around neighbourhoods such as Eastlake Park, Booker T Washington, Garfield and of course downtown Phoenix is a great way to get acquainted with one’s new home.
►Learn about Phoenix's most popular neighbourhood's on our Areas and Suburbs of Phoenix page
Are you an expat living in Phoenix?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Phoenix. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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