Three ways technology will make Phoenix travel different in 2023

Taylor Seely
Arizona Republic
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A Waymo vehicle is shown at the Sky Harbor International Airport drop off location.

Several new technology-driven transportation projects will change how people travel to, from and within Phoenix in 2023 and beyond.

Waymo announced autonomous vehicle rides to and from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in mid-December. Less than a week later, Phoenix officials celebrated the grand opening of the final phase of the airport's automated Sky Train. On top of those developments, Valley Metro is expected to begin allowing mobile fare purchases in early 2023.

City leaders say the new transportation options will make it easier to travel through Phoenix and reduce traffic on crowded streets. That could come in handy ahead of Superbowl LVII, set to take place in Glendale in February.

“The new PHX Sky Train extension is a perfect example of why I believe Phoenix is the city of the future,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in a written statement. “Phoenix is a hub for innovation, and we are constantly using data-driven technology to make life easier for our residents, as well as our visitors. When fans arrive for the big game in February, they will instantly see why Phoenix is a top-tier destination for business, for jobs, for vacationers, and for those who’d like to build a life here.” 

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Completion of automated Sky Train

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport opened the final phase of the automated Sky Train on Dec. 20. This portion of the train line was approved by the Phoenix City Council in Oct. 2016, according to Sky Harbor records.

The Sky Train now extends five miles from a station at 44th and Washington streets on the east end, where there is a connection to Valley Metro's light rail, to the Rental Car Center west of the airport. The Sky Train's new link to the Rental Car Center will move passengers more quickly and efficiently than the old shuttle bus system.

The route extension also includes a new 24th Street station accessible from Buckeye Road and Copperhead Drive. The station adds about 1,600 economy parking spaces and about 22 electric vehicle charging stations to the Sky Harbor complex. It also offers a new curbside pick-up and drop-off point for private and commercial vehicles, which may help ease congestion around Sky Harbor's terminals.

The Sky Train is free to use, runs every three to five minutes, and operates 24 hours a day. The extension was funded with rental car customer facility charges and airline passenger facility charges, according to the airport website.

“Now that the PHX Sky Train line is complete, people will have a 24/7 option for getting to the terminals while avoiding roadway traffic," said Phoenix Councilmember Carlos Garcia, who represents District 8, in a statement. "This makes it easier for passengers, workers, and the friends and family who may be meeting them to connect." 

More changes in the Valley:Developments to look for in 2023 in the Southwest Valley

Fully autonomous Waymo car rides to and from the airport

Travelers heading to or leaving the Phoenix airport can now hitch a ride in a fully autonomous Waymo car.

The company, owned by Google, has incrementally expanded its driverless car services in the Valley over the past several years. For now, the airport rides are only available to Phoenix riders, dropping them off or picking them up at the Sky Train station at 44th and Washington streets.

"You can take an autonomous vehicle to Sky Harbor and then get on our fabulous Sky Train," said Gallego at the Sky Train extension grand opening event on Dec. 19. "This is actually going to be holiday entertainment for me and my 5-year-old."

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Light rail fare purchases via cell phone

Valley Metro light rail in Phoenix, Ariz.

Riders of Valley Metro's light rail system will soon be able to purchase their fares via a smartphone app.

The "Valley Metro" app on the App Store and Google Play will let riders purchase single-ride and one-day light rail passes on their phones starting in early 2023. Valley Metro also expects to offer mobile fare purchases for Express and RAPID buses and the Tempe streetcar. Currently, riders can buy passes online, at vending machines and from stores like Circle K or Walgreens.

"Our new fare system seeks to enhance the customer experience and offers quick and simple ways to purchase and store fares," Valley Metro states on its Fare Technology Modernization website. "Riders will have more flexibility and convenience on when and how they purchase their fares."

Looking further ahead, light rail system expansions are expected to open in 2024 to better serve parts of northwest and south Phoenix.

The "Northwest Extension Phase II" will connect the current end of the light rail at 19th and Dunlap avenues to the site of the former Metro Center mall, which is being redeveloped. The "South Central Extension" will transport riders 5.5 miles north and south along Central Avenue from Washington Street to Baseline Road.

The South Central Extension will connect to the future Capitol Extension. The Capitol Extension is a planned 1.4-mile path that will extend from downtown to 19th Avenue and loop around the state capitol on Washington and Jefferson streets. It is not yet under construction.

Republic reporter Michael Salerno contributed to this report. Reach reporter Taylor Seely at [email protected].

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