Beginning in 1993, the fleet size was frozen at roughly 200 buses and improvements to service basically came to an end. While more money than ever is spent on the system, the added investment has been for higher staff salaries, not extra routes or hours of operation. (See "The Crossroad," July 12.)
The failure to increase service levels was compounded in the last decade by periodic fare increases. It was further exacerbated a few months ago when, to save $638,000, the Tucson City Council approved a restructuring of many of the system's routes. "We made a step in the right direction with the changes," says Michele Dyer, director of marketing for Sun Tran. Some riders beg to differ. (See "On the Bus," opposite page.)
Ridership figures for the past five years show the bus system is losing customers. Even though better mass-transit service is ranked near the top of almost every quality-of-life survey done in Tucson, the reality is that 13 percent fewer people rode the bus last year than in the previous 12 months.
Sun Tran's Dyer attributes the recent loss to an August 2000 fare increase combined with the elimination of special fares for youth and reductions in four of the system's routes. Whatever the reason, ridership this fiscal year is off again, primarily due to the recent strike by bus drivers and mechanics. October's figures were down 3 percent from the previous year, but the number of riders has been rising steadily since the strike was settled, increasing to more than 50,000 the week of October 22.
But without a substantial investment of funds, the bus system will continue to shrink as the community continues to grow. To attract more riders, Sun Tran is adding 45 new compressed natural gas vehicles as replacement buses to its fleet. The company seeks to increase the 60 businesses that now encourage employees to take the bus; Raytheon, for example, gives free bus passes to any worker who wants one, with about 100 people now taking advantage of the program.
Transfer: Sun Tran ridership declining
|Annual Passenger Trips||Service Miles||Average Weekday Trips|
|FY '96/'97||16.1 million||8.0 million||54,531|
|'97/'98||14.9 million||7.8 million||52,022|
|'98/'99||15.3 million||8.0 million||52,829|
|'99/'00||15.3 million||8.0 million||51,775|
|'00/'01||14.5 million||7.8 million||45,018|
ALTHOUGH THERE AREN'T any concrete figures, transportation officials estimate that roughly 60 percent of the City of Tucson's 1,700 miles of roadways have a sidewalk. City government is spending $400,000 in each of the next four years to add more; over the last two years, almost five miles of new sidewalks were installed, along with 75 wheelchair ramps at intersections.
To clearly identify sidewalks in metropolitan Tucson and determine their condition, the Pima Association of Governments has recently embarked on a sidewalk assessment program. The project is expected to be completed by next summer.
THE RIDESHARE PROGRAM encourages carpooling. Established in 1974, RideShare today has 23,000 people in its database; about 8,500 actually carpooled at least once a week last year.
THE CITY'S transportation system for the disabled, Van Tran, gets a lot less scrutiny than Sun Tran. Van Tran has 6,600 eligible passengers, provided 320,000 rides last year, and requires a public subsidy of more than $5 million. Riders pay $2, or twice the bus fare.
Pima County and Oro Valley operate their own paratransit services. The Coyote Run system in Oro Valley, with an annual budget of $225,000, has 535 registered participants and averages 65-75 trips a day.
The county's system is divided between a special-needs program and a service that connects the region's rural areas. A total of 1,450 clients took 70,000 rides last year on special-need vans. Riders pay $1.20 per trip; the total budget for the program is $1.5 million.
Just under 44,000 riders were transported a total of 346,000 miles by the county's rural transit project. Fares varied depending upon location, with $360,000 budgeted for the program.