In a city as small as Flagstaff, it’s difficult to miss the opening of a new business, especially when that business is bright orange and green and mobile.
As of mid-spring 2018, FlixBus, with its fleet of cheerfully colored buses, can be spotted pulling into the Flagstaff train depot to unload and load its passengers.
The German company began operating in the United States in May, with Flagstaff as one of its initial charter networks. The northern Arizona route takes travelers from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to Flagstaff’s Amtrak station at 5 p.m. and from Flagstaff to Phoenix at 6:15 every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In Phoenix, passengers have the option to stay on the bus, which then continues to Tucson.
Transfers to cities including Los Angeles and Las Vegas are also available from Phoenix.
“Actually, Flagstaff is the second-best performing station in the U.S. for us,” said Pierre Gourdain, managing director for FlixBus in the United States.
This translates to about 150 passengers to and from Flagstaff every day, and an approximate total of 30,000 passengers since the company’s United States launch.
“At this point, we’ve probably transported on this route about half the population of Flagstaff already, and probably by the summer more than the whole population of Flagstaff will have traveled. Per capita, it’s very impressive,” Gourdain said.
According to its website, FlixBus connects more than 2,000 destinations in 28 countries.
The company originally hails from Munich, Germany, where it launched in 2013. Since 2015, it has expanded throughout Europe with trips to, from and between France, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Spain and more.
Tickets are $10 one way for the Flagstaff/Phoenix route and start as low as $2.99 on other routes. Care workers and aides, in addition to service animals for people with disabilities, ride for free, Gourdain said.
Part of the company’s motto lies in sustainability, according to both their website and Gourdain — something he said resonates with Flagstaff’s residents.
“To us, Flagstaff is a more environmentally conscious community, they realize that only using your car is not the best way, and we are still dependent in the U.S.," Gourdain said. "You want to take people out of their cars and put them in buses, especially in the U.S., and we believe we see it working really well here."
According to Gourdain, there was also a niche to be filled in town.
“We had a lot of demand out of Flagstaff that was not addressed. It was kind of a gamble because it’s a small city, but we found it grew popular fast,” Gourdain said.
Arizona Shuttle, which has been operating in the state since 1987, driving passengers to Sky Harbor, as well as Sedona, Grand Canyon, Prescott and Tucson has over 250,000 passengers a year.
Greyhound also offers bus service to Phoenix.
In its foundation, FlixBus is also a tech company, Gourdain said. With outlets at every seat, free in-transit WiFi and a FlixBus app that keeps users updated before, during and after their trip, the service is also geared toward Flagstaff's student population.
“Plus the trip is an experience in itself -- it’s so beautiful, there are like four different landscapes on the way to and from Phoenix. If you sit higher in the bus you can see the view, you see the sunset as you drive down,” Gourdain said.
And the company is looking to expand its service in town.
"We hope and think that in a year or three years, max, we think it’s gonna be 10 times the ridership. We will start to offer two or three buses every day, which means 500 people -- that's our vision," Gourdain said.