Sabino Canyon has attracted visitors since almost forever and now its wonders can be more thoroughly enjoyed because of quiet in the canyon.
“It took a decade of work, coordinated efforts and common vision, but now you can enjoy the sounds of nature,” said Forest Service Regional Forester Cal Joyner at the inaugural run of the new Sabino Canyon Crawler, an emission-free electric shuttle service.
By going electric and replacing older, noisy diesel shuttles, an estimated 15,000 gallons of gas per month will be saved representing a reduction of 400,000 pounds of carbon monoxide annually, according to Satish Hiremath, chairman of the nonprofit Regional Partnering Center managed by the Pima Association of Governments.
RPC owns the shuttle service in partnership with Tucson Electric Power and the U.S. Forest Service. Total Transit Enterprises/Total Ride will operate the service.
The new Crawler transportation system was funded in part by a $1.5 million contribution from Tucson Electric Power, along with a $1 million, 10-year, interest-free loan.
“Transportation is the largest greenhouse gas producer and this electric vehicle project toward cleaner and greener is another step in the long march we’ve been taking toward a more sustainable energy future," said TEP’s CEO David Hutchens. "Today marks the latest milestone in our efforts to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.”
The Sabino Canyon Shuttle Launch took place during Native American Heritage month and emcee Hiremath included that observation in his remarks.
“This area has sustained Native Americans for generations and remains culturally and spiritually significant today," he said.
RFP Vice Chair and Pascua Yaqui tribal official Peter Yucupicio also spoke about the project's significance.
“This project helps show respect for the land originally cared for by native cultures and ensures this natural treasure can remain unspoiled well into the future for many others to enjoy.”
Hiremath said that the new shuttle supports the region's priorities, referred to as their "3 Rs: relationships, recreation and restoration."
“This service honors the wishes of the community for a ‘greener’ transportation service in the canyon," he said. "It highlights new working relationships and the continuing importance of volunteers who help steward our lands, and it augments a vision for a transportation system benefitting both the public and the environment.”
Arizona’s congressional delegation was well represented at the launch with Sen. Martha McSally (R) and Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-CD2) and Raul Grijalva (D-CD3) in attendance.
“We hiked here as kids when this was just a dirt path with no infrastructure,” said Kirkpatrick. “Now people who can no longer hike can still enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We hold this land in trust as sacred, to be returned to the next generation better than we found it, and I feel that’s what’s happening today.”
McSally also commented on the benefits the shuttle can bring.
“All the way around, this is a real win for the entire community, and as a runner, I’m looking forward to finally experiencing a run in peace and quiet," she said.
Five custom-made electric shuttles will operate on the Sabino Canyon route, limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles an hour. (Another six gas-powered, enclosed shuttles will operate on the Bear Canyon route). Free earbuds are provided for a professionally narrated tour guide that explains the canyon’s cultural and geological history as well as its diverse plant and animal life. Audio noise will be reduced so that hikers can enjoy the sounds of nature free from the previous service’s obnoxious loudspeaker narrations.
Shuttles are powered by a 384-volt battery system that is recharged nightly at an onsite charging facility. The shuttles and their trailers are equipped with multiple braking systems that allow control on steep downgrades. The vehicles, manufactured by the world’s foremost builder of trams, feature 4-wheel steering to allow negotiation of sharp turns and narrow-bridge water crossings.
A new website, www.SabinoCanyonCrawler.com, will allow visitors to reserve and pay for shuttle seats in advance of their visit while an onsite shuttle fee drop box at vendor kiosks will also accept payment via credit or debit card. In-person ticket sales are also available at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area Visitor Center gift shop. Roundtrip adult price is $12 or $4 for a one-way hop-on when space is available.