ON THE BUS
The Tucson City Council voted 6-1 last week to hike normal bus fares from $1.25 to $1.50, and approved a more modest increase in economy fares for low-income riders, who make up about half of Sun Tran's users.The economy fare will increase from 40 cents to 50 cents, and a monthly pass for low-income residents will go from $12 to $15.
It was the first increase in economy fares in more than a decade, when the fares were increased from 35 cents to 40 cents.
The lone dissenter was Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, who wanted to increase economy fares to 60 cents, as recommended by city staff and the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee, in an effort to help close the city's budget deficit.
The increases will bring in an additional $1.3 million, but the decision to scale back the low-income fare hike will keep the city from bringing in another $260,000.
"We think we can fill the gap," said City Manager Mike Letcher, who was probably happy the council agreed to raise the fares at all.
Brian Flagg, who runs the Casa Maria soup kitchen, told us he was happy with the outcome, although he didn't think fares needed to be raised at all.
"Given the political realities, this was really good," Flagg said. "The mayor and council listened to the heartfelt pleas of the transit community. They acted like Democrats tonight, and that was heartening."
But Sami Hamed, who chairs the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee, said he was disappointed that the council didn't boost the economy fare by the full 20 cents.
"They didn't solve a problem," Hamed said. "They just slapped a Band-Aid on it. They're just going to have find more money somewhere else."
Ward 5 Councilman Richard Fimbres suggested that the city look into ways to bring in more dollars by expanding advertising on buses. The current City Council policy limits what kind of advertising the city can sell on the buses.
Kozachik was skeptical that the move would generate much revenue, but we think it's a move in the right direction. We do wish that some advertising on buses could be in the form of billboards on the side rather than the full wrap-around adverts that a handful of Sun Tran buses are now sporting.