Orbit circulator buses considered for So. Tempe expansion

orbit bus

Tempe’s popular Orbit circulator buses could be routed south of the US 60 if residents in the area indicate they’d be willing to use them.

Prospective users of any such new routes will get an opportunity to share their views in September when Tempe in Motion, the city’s transit agency, will hold a series of public meetings on possible Orbit route expansions.

The meetings are designed to gather ideas from residents and get input on possible route changes using existing budgetary resources. Meetings will occur at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, and 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Tempe Transportation Center, Don Cassano Community Room, 200 E. Fifth St., and at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at Pyle Adult Recreation Center, 655 E. Southern Ave.

The same information will be presented at all three sessions.

Orbit is a free system that uses mini-buses to serve residential areas and connect riders to local destinations such as parks, shopping areas, other neighborhoods, major bus and light rail routes, schools and multi-generational centers.

Orbit buses are smaller and quieter than traditional buses, each with a capacity of about 20 passengers. They travel along collector and residential streets, with boarding available anywhere along residential streets by signaling the driver.

For those unable to attend any of the meetings, an online comment form will be available starting Sept. 1.

Tracing Orbit’s history

Currently, none of the Orbit buses operates south of the US 60. However, say officials, that is not to suggest that some existing routes couldn’t be reconfigured to serve areas of south Tempe, as long as they remain cost neutral.

Sue Taffe, marketing and community outreach director for the agency, said the city hopes residents from all areas of the city will participate in the latest planning process.

Whether or not there is sufficient interest in Orbit route expansion among south Tempe residents, Taffe said, other transit options will remain available.

“We have dozens of fixed-route Valley Metro buses that run on arterial streets in south Tempe that then connect to Orbit routes.”

Tempe’s transit system, including the Orbit neighborhood circulator buses, is funded through a local half-cent sales tax. The same funding also supports the fixed-route arterial bus (Valley Metro) system and the light rail line. 

When the sales tax was approved in 1996 by Tempe voters, the first phase of implementation focused on providing bus service on all major arterial streets in Tempe, according to Taffe. The second phase focused on the development and implementation of the Orbit neighborhood circulator system.

Based on input from the Tempe Transportation Commission and Council Transportation Committee, criteria were developed to help determine which areas of the city were the most likely to result in a successful neighborhood circulator program, according to Taffe. 

These criteria included possible connections to light rail transit, population density, likelihood of transit use, access to major destinations (downtown Tempe, ASU) and the potential for partnerships with other organizations (ASU, city of Scottsdale). 

Using the criteria, transit staff conducted an analysis of the entire city and determined that neighborhoods north of the US 60 ranked the highest for potential ridership and community acceptance.

After a year-long public involvement process, the neighborhood circulator program began in 2001 with one route, Taffe said. After several years of monitoring the service and additional public involvement, the Orbit was expanded in 2007 and at the beginning of 2008 to include five routes north of the US 60.

Taffe said the transit department’s goal is to continue to expand the service to other parts of the city.

“In fall 2007, we began a public input process for expanding Orbit south of US 60. However, in 2008, our local sales tax revenues began to decrease as a result of the economic slowdown,” Taffe said.

“This has caused us to delay the development and implementation of any additional Orbit routes until our financial status improves.”

Optimism remains strong, however.

“As I stated before, we do have the option, with the aid of public input, to modify routes and possibly serve some neighborhoods south of US 60 if it is cost neutral.”

Information: (480) 350-2775 or www.tempe.gov/tim

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