Tucson's SunTran buses and SunLink streetcars will continue to offer free rides through the end of the year. But the city council is talking about abolishing fares permanently.
What started out Tuesday as a discussion of whether to resume collecting fares on Sept 25, turned into a plan to do away with fares for good. The city transit system has been using federal COVID-19 relief money to subsidize rides, as a way of reducing interaction between drivers and passengers. The relief money is running out, but council member Paul Cunningham says the city should look for funding partners, the way Salt Lake City does to keep part of its light rail system free-to-ride.
"The university and the Latter-day Saints Church and the city and the county all pool a special fund, and it's just easier to do that than to sit there and collect money and count it," Cunningham said.
Mayor Regina Romero endorsed Cunningham's idea of going fare-free. "We should look at models that other cities throughout the United States have been moving towards, which is a universal free ridership for the benefit of the community," she said.
In the short term, the council directed the city manager to look for about five million dollars to keep bus and streetcar rides free until year's end. That's how much the city collected in fares over the same period last year.
Even without fares, bus ridership is down thirty percent from last year, and streetcar ridership is off more than sixty percent - a reflection of the pandemic's affect on the local economy.