Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sun Tran - Oped

It had been stated and reported that there is no five year, plan right now, being developed for the Sun Tran bus system, when this is far from the case. Or that the Mayor and Council isn’t “thinking it through” about the bus service.

In 2011, the Mayor and Council had given direction to the Transportation Director and the Transit Task Force to begin work on compiling a five year plan for the bus system.

The bus system is just one part of the budgetary review process my colleagues and I are in the middle of completing. This process started on February 7, with the initial presentation to the Mayor and Council by city staff.

At that initial presentation on February 7, the Mayor and Council were told that the projected general fund expenditure for Sun Tran would be $45.5 million dollars. Less than two months later, during an agenda item specifically dealing with Sun Tran, that figure was reduced to $42.2 million. At the April 3 Mayor and Council meeting, that figure was changed again, to $39.5 million dollars.

The Mayor and Council received a memorandum, at the April 3 meeting, from the Transit Task Force to not raise rates, but if they have to be raised, to raise the one-way, full-fare and economy rates: 16% for the one-way, 14% for the full-fare and 70% for the economy. What about the monthly pass rates? What about the monthly express rates? What about the full-fare, daily express routes? Were these even considered?

In 2011, the Mayor and Council approved raising the rates for all bus passes, from most of the recommendations from the Transit Task Force. The Mayor and Council also approved my motion to lift the restrictions on advertising on Sun Tran Buses, generating $200,000 in revenues in the current fiscal year.

I am not comfortable, solely considering another rate hike this year, especially for those who depend upon the bus, such as senior citizens, the disabled or low income, while other riders, such as for the express routes or those using a monthly pass, have their rates remained unchanged.

Some may say that it is a matter of dimes, but as the morning daily newspaper had written in an editorial last year, a dime is a lot to those who can only afford the economy fare. This came from the same paper, now chastising this Council for not immediately, raising the bus rates this time now, this year.

With the questions over the general fund expenditures for Sun Tran, others were raised about extending the road life of the Sun Van buses. The Mayor and Council were told that extending the life of the Sun Van buses one year would save $1.0 million. So what would be the savings if they are extended five years? According to Sun Tran, it would be $3.9 million.

I have concerns about the Sun Tran bus system, the service and its costs, for which the five year plan will work towards these.

Sun Tran’s monthly reports have shown that more than 26% of the total, overall ridership comes from my Ward. Routes 6, 7, 8, 24 and 29, located in my Ward, are in the top ten of routes in ridership and revenue.

Tucson’s unemployment rate is down to 7.9% currently, and we are beginning to see the light at the end of this dark, economic tunnel I have dealt with, during my time on this Council?

People are finding work, but still may not be able to afford a car or repair the one they own. They need to be able to get to where they need to go.

(The following was written by Tucson Councilmember Richard Fimbres (Ward 5).