Bus service could gain Valley-wide scope, oversight


Unifying the Valley’s bus routes and the inter-agency oversight that guides transit planning throughout metro Phoenix may be getting closer to reality.

Tempe Councilmember Shana Ellis is helping to steer the process.

In a move to help create a fully integrated regional transit system in the Valley, the city of Tempe and Valley Metro RPTA are exploring a “scout” program for bus service unification.

The program would move Tempe closer to unifying Tempe’s bus operations with the Regional Public Transportation Authority. The intent, said an agency spokeswoman, is to operate regional buses more efficiently, achieve cost savings and improve service.

Tempe operates 19 bus routes (including Local, Express, Flash and Orbit) from a bus operations facility on Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe; RPTA operates 22 Local and Express routes from an operations facility on Greenfield Road in Mesa.

Combined, Tempe and RPTA provide nearly 45 percent of the region’s bus service, noted Ellis.

“With the expiration of both agencies’ individual bus-operations contracts approaching, this creates an opportunity to consider whether unification between Tempe and RPTA will provide a more cost effective and efficient bus system for our residents,” said Ellis, who also is an RPTA board member.

Much of the savings potential stems from increasing the number of bus routes based out of the more centrally located East Valley Bus Operations Maintenance Facility in Tempe.

Additionally, the Tempe facility has maintenance capacity for 250 buses; RPTA’s Mesa facility can accommodate up to 150.

Unifying is designed also to create opportunities for reducing duplicative contractor staff by consolidating functions, combining auxiliary contracts such as those for fuel supply and fuel station maintenance, and improving operational and security coordination.

In addition to greater efficiency, planners hope that higher service quality would demonstrate a measure of success as the unification effort proceeds.

According to Ellis, advantages to the community may include preservation of existing bus service as the potential cost savings and long-term efficiencies achieved can partially replace budget gaps created by lagging sales tax revenues in local and regional transit budgets.

The estimated savings is in the range of $800,000 to $1 million, with Tempe’s local savings totaling about half of the amount.

Tempe and RPTA are conducting a joint procurement process to hire a new bus operations contractor to provide services from both sites beginning July 2013. The procurement will require contractors to provide pricing for both the unified and independent operations.

This strategy will provide the Tempe City Council and RPTA Board with concrete information on the cost savings related to unification and will aid both agencies in making a decision on unification.

It is anticipated that one or more contractors will be selected in December and begin the contract term of six years on July 1, 2013.

Tempe will continue to administer its local transit levy, a permanent half-cent sales tax that funds transit in the city. The city will also continue to own its bus fleet and operations facility, and exercise complete control of all non-rail elements of its transit program.

The RPTA’s major funding source for regional transit services comes from Proposition 400, the half-cent transportation sales tax approved by voters in 2004.

Tempe and the RPTA currently partner on bus procurement and fleet maintenance inspections, which planners say has resulted in improved coordination, streamlined project delivery and reduction of costs to both agencies.



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