The Orbit is a great transit option for going somewhere outside of walking or biking distance in Tempe. Want a quick and free way to get from Culdesac to Mill Ave? Hop on the Orbit bus, and it’ll take you where you want to go!

What is the Orbit bus?

The Tempe neighborhood circulator bus, known endearingly as the Tempe Orbit, is a free and friendly way to get around town. As the name suggests, the Orbit bus circulates throughout Tempe and connects neighborhoods to downtown Tempe, other transit options, and retail hubs like Tempe Marketplace.

All Orbit bus routes

The bus routes are named for planets and serve nearly the entire city of Tempe. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all run throughout south Tempe. Earth runs north, Venus runs west, and Mercury runs East. The Mercury route will get you to downtown Tempe if you're at Culdesac. It stops on Lemon Street, one block north of Culdesac.

Where do I find the Orbit bus?

If you are in Tempe, there is probably one that runs near you! Orbit buses run from 6 am until about 9:45 pm and circulate every 15 mins. Valley Metro has an app where you can track each bus live on a map, check schedules, and see route updates and delay notices.

Valley Metro app

Note: The Orbit Mercury is abbreviated as MERC in the Valley Metro App and Google Maps.

The Orbit bus also appears as a transit option in Google Maps, so you have multiple ways to see when the next bus will arrive.

How do I ride the Orbit?

Like other transit systems in the Phoenix Metro Area, the Orbit bus is maintained by Valley Metro. However, one thing that sets the Orbit buses apart from other buses and transit throughout AZ is that the Orbit is completely free. You don’t need a pass or a ticket – you can hop on the Orbit and ride to your heart’s content.

Another important aspect of the Orbit is the “flag” zone. These are sections of the bus route where you flag down the bus to stop by waving from the side of the street where you want to board. Flag zones are also for riders inside the bus. Want to hop off the Orbit bus in a flag zone? There is a cord that runs through the bus that you can pull to alert the driver you want to get off the bus.

On major streets like Mill Avenue, University Drive, Broadway Road, Rural Road, or Priest Drive, designated bus stops should be used by pulling the cord before the stop where you wish to exit. The Orbit bus will announce designated stops before it passes them – pull that cord if you hear your stop.

Here is a map of the Orbit Mercury route and how to get there from Culdesac with the flag stops highlighted.

Can I bring my bike onto the Orbit?

You can bring your bike if you can mount it on the front of the Orbit bus! Keep in mind that your bike must have a wheel diameter somewhere between 16” - 29”, and you will need to lift the entire frame about one and a half feet into the air to place the bike on the rack. No bike heavier than 55 pounds can be loaded onto the racks.

When loading your bike, pull the rack and squeeze the clamp; this will lower the rack and allow bike storage.

Once your bike is on the rack, pull the hook out and away from the wheels of your bike. After that, lift the hook over your wheels, and release with the hook properly secured around your wheel.

Where do the different Orbit routes go?

We love taking the Orbit Mercury bus to get to downtown Tempe. The Orbit Mercury has a flag zone along its route on Lemon Street, one block north of Culdesac. Because of the flag zone, you will wave your hand to flag down the bus to stop. To head downtown, wait on the north side of Lemon Street to flag down a bus heading westward. When riding the bus home, pull the cord located near the windows to stop the bus and hop off.

This map shows you some other restaurants and sights along the Mercury route if you would prefer to take a deep dive into the area.

Tempe Transit Center

The Tempe Transit Center is the main transit hub for Tempe. Every Orbit bus except for Saturn stops here and should serve as a good orientation spot if you get lost.

The Orbit Earth crosses the lake and runs through north Tempe. Take the Orbit Earth to get to:

  • Tempe Marketplace - This big outdoor retail center has a wide variety of food and shopping.
  • Papago Park - Papago is a large park in the middle of town with walking and bike trails. You can hike up some of the hills and buttes in this park.

The Orbit Venus serves the neighborhoods to the west of Downtown Tempe, and it might be good for visiting new neighbors and friends you’ve made in Tempe!

Looking for a bus adventure? The Orbit Jupiter has a stop at the intersection of Rural Road and Southern Road. Ride to that stop, hop off and transfer to the Orbit Saturn and ride until you make it to Kiwanis Park. The park is beautiful and an excellent place for a picnic by one of the mini lakes.

How do I ride the Orbit bus safely?

Inside every bus are cables that you can pull to alert the driver to stop. The driver is able to hear you if you call out for assistance inside of the bus during an emergency. You can text Valley Metro directly at (602) 253-7886 to quickly alert the driver and local authorities of safety risks or maintenance issues. It’s good to have the Valley Metro app to stay up-to-date on route closures and delays.

Have fun exploring Tempe using the Orbit bus!