Phoenix is a sprawling Sun Belt metropolis; if you’re not bunking at ASU or sequestered downtown on a business trip, you need to make transportation plans. Uber and Lyft can take care of incidental needs, but if you are planning to poke around at some of the Valley’s major attractions, a rental car might be your most cost-effective option.
Outside downtown Phoenix and the ASU campus, there’s almost always plenty of free parking. Winter can get busier; during the tourist season, some of the newer restaurants have even resorted to that newfangled valet parking, which is generally free, but of course you want to tip the valets.
Renting a car isn’t hard, but just be aware that published daily rates nearly double once taxes and fees are added in. Expect to pay a bit more than you would in most mid-American cities—$300 or more a week in the winter, less in the desultory summer.
At Sky Harbor, all the major rental-car companies have desks at a big but efficient Rental Car Center just outside the airport, with free buses to ferry you on the quick trip to and from. I wouldn’t advise going there without an advance reservation in the high season; you can get hit with very high last-minute rates. There are also individual car-rental outlets scattered around town, though not that many in downtown proper. You can probably save a bit on your rental by picking up your car someplace other than the airport.
By Public Transportation
Valley Metro (www.valleymetro.org; tel. 602/253-5000) runs the buses and the light rail. The Phoenix public bus system does its best, but this is a big city with arteries a mile apart; it is not very useful to tourists. Fares on buses and the light rail are $2, $1 for seniors and kids. The Valley Metro light-rail system starts in the northwest part of the city and then runs along Central Avenue, through downtown Phoenix, and from there east to Tempe and Mesa. Attractions along or fairly close to the line include Uptown, the Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Historic Heritage Square, Arizona Science Center, Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, the airport, Tempe’s Mill Avenue shopping district, ASU, even the old Mormon Temple in Mesa. But be aware that “served by” in Phoenix Speak can mean “within a half-mile or a mile walk in 90-plus-degree heat,” and that the Metro does not run as frequently as a big city subway system does. Midmorning on a weekday, trains should come every 12 minutes, about every 15 minutes on Saturdays, and 20 on Sundays. The Metro’s 44th Street/Washington Street stop connects to the SkyTrain to the airport.
Of slightly more value to visitors is the Metro’s free Downtown Area Circulator (DASH), which goes up and down Central Avenue and 1st Avenue and then swings out to the State Capitol complex a mile west of downtown. It runs Monday through Friday from 6:30am to 6:30pm. There’s a transit hub close to the center of downtown, at Central Avenue and Van Buren Street. In Tempe, FLASH buses provide a similar service on a loop around Arizona State University, including Mill Avenue and Sun Devil Stadium, Monday through Friday from 7am to 6pm. The Tempe Transit Center is at Veterans and College avenues. Buses run every 10 or 12 minutes. For information on both DASH and FLASH, visit www.valleymetro.org or call tel. 602/253-5000.
In Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Trolley (www.scottsdaletrolley.com; tel. 480/421-1004) shuttle buses run between Scottsdale Fashion Square, the Fifth Avenue shops, the Main Street Arts district, and the Old Town district. These buses run daily from 11am to 9pm, with service every 10 minutes.
By Taxi or Uber
Phoenix’s sprawl can make the price of an ordinary taxi ride quite high. AAA Yellow Cab (www.yellowcabaz.com; tel. 602/252-5252) charges $2.75 for the first mile and $2.20 per mile thereafter. Lyft and Uber serve the Valley as well, and they are generally a lot cheaper than cabs; my only complaint is that the newer drivers sometimes lack basic knowledge of the city. It’s smart to make sure both you and the driver agree on where you’re going before you get into traffic.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.