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Microtransit Changes Up the School Commute for Arizona Students

Chandler Flex, a new on-demand, microtransit service in Chandler, Ariz., is being touted as a free transportation option for students in need of rides to before- and after-school activities and other events.

Chandler Flex - compressed.jpg
Chandler Flex is a new on-demand, microtransit service operating in Chandler, Ariz.
Submitted Photo/ Via
A new on-demand, microtransit service in Chandler, Ariz., could take over for the parental taxi. Chandler Flex, a new transit service in this Phoenix suburb will operate as a free service for students.

“One of the major goals of this service is to provide transportation for high school and junior high school students involved in before- and after-school activities,” said Jason Crampton, transportation planning manager in Chandler. The city received a grant from A for Arizona, a statewide nonprofit charged with improving educational opportunities, to operate the program for two years.

The city credits the program as “a good solution for students needing rides to and from school outside of the normal school bus hours,” said Crampton.

The service will be operated by Via, a transportation company operating on-demand, microtransit services in a number of markets. The fleet will include five minivan-like vehicles offering shared rides. Riders can use a mobile app to book a ride, or call a service number. As in other markets, riders will then be directed to walk to a “virtual bus stop” — which is generally a nearby street corner — to be picked up.

Chandler Flex operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is available to all residents. Also, fares will be waived for all riders during a promotional period.

Students have been early adopters of microtransit services, said Via officials.

“There are actually several Via-powered microtransit services where we see high student ridership,” said Alex Lavoie, Via's co-chief operating officer, noting programs in Newton, Mass., and Cupertino, Calif., where about 15 percent of riders start or end their ride at a local school. “Via's student riders have often commented that the service gives them greater independence when they otherwise cannot drive or do not have access to a car.”

The company also partners with the New York City Department of Education to provide some 10,000 school buses with Via’s TransitTech software, which helps drivers monitor and track riders; an administrative component that gives real-time bus locations; and an app for parents who may want to monitor the real-time location of their children when they board the bus.

Chandler Flex represents the first microtransit service in the city. However, residents have access to 11 local bus routes and two express bus routes. And residents with disabilities can have access to paratransit services, say city officials.

“The city of Chandler also provides residents with 50 percent Lyft discounts to and from bus stops in southeast Chandler where bus service is more limited,” Crampton added.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.