We've all been there. The bus is supposed to arrive at a certain time. You're there ten minutes early. One minute before the scheduled arrival time, you start looking down the road for an approaching bus. It isn't there. The arrival time comes and goes. It's not there. You start waiting, perhaps with a little annoyance. You glance at your watch and even though it feels like three minutes have passed, it's really only been 30 seconds. At five minutes you start wondering if the bus will ever arrive, and you consider calling Valley Metro customer service to ask "Why is my bus late?!? I've got to get to work!!"

I'm a regular customer of Valley Metro myself. I hear you and I think every regular rider will empathize with you. Now that I'm on the "inside" of the company, I've learned that there's all sorts of reasons why buses, and even trains, may run late.

First, let's get a sense of the scale of the issue. Every day, Valley Metro runs hundreds of buses to cover more than 7,000 bus stops. Every month, Valley Metro vehicles travel a staggering 3.5 million miles. Occasionally, despite the best efforts of our maintenance crews, equipment breaks down. The good news is that there are plenty of backup systems in place to restore service as quickly as possible. However, implementing those systems takes time and that's one reason why there may be a short delay in getting to your stop.

Buses are just like any other vehicle on the road, and as such, they're subject to slow traffic as well. Getting stuck in gridlock is a pain for everyone. Valley Metro has systems in place to deal with this as well, enabling drivers to quickly locate and take advantage of detours.

Phoenix is a growing city and construction is everywhere. That affects buses as well. It also affects our light rail system, which is undergoing some construction right now as it's tied in with the upcoming Tempe Streetcar system. That project requires a section of one train line to be shut down and that means both eastbound and westbound trains are going to have to share one track. That will all be done with the utmost concern for safety of course, but it will also require as adjusted schedule with 24 minute service at all stations.

Then there's a host of other reasons. Traffic accidents happen. People suffer medical situations while they're on the bus or light rail, which requires emergency personnel to be dispatched. Occasionally, trains are held in place at platforms to allow security personnel and/or police to deal with situations.

We are also facing a shortage of bus operators and that is impacting service. While this is relatively new to the Valley, a shortage of labor at transit systems across the country has caused them to cut service. Valley Metro is a massive transit system and with any system this large, things are going to happen that will affect our goal to be at the right place at the right time. A good way to deal with the occasional delay is to catch an earlier bus or train so that you can ensure you arrive at your destination on time. If a bus or train is more than ten minutes late, you can call our customer service line at (602) 253-5000, or go to https://www.valleymetro.org/bus-travel for successful transit travel tips.


Alex Tsotsos
Rail Operations Communications Specialist
Writer, editor, musician, gamer, and former news professional. Frequently seen at Phoenix Rising matches and jogging around Gainey Ranch. May throw things in the presence of typos.