/ Modified mar 7, 2024 1:12 p.m.

Return of SunTran fare is still up in the air

City officials maintain that Tucson's education system should pitch in for public transportation.

Sun Tran 12-25 Passengers wait to board a bus at the Ronstadt Transit Center in downtown Tucson. Rides have been free since March 2020.
Tony Paniagua/AZPM

After almost four years of free public transportation, Tucson’s Mayor and Council now seem reluctant to bring fares back.

Before Tuesday’s study session, City Manager Mike Ortega’s official recommendation to the council was to restart fares, a process that would take about six months.

But with nearly all council members expressing support for keeping fares free, the conversation has shifted to finding more long-term funding solutions for the SunLink and SunTran systems.

City officials estimate that restarting fares would bring in anywhere from $1.4 to $2.1 million to the city, depending on the scale of inevitable ridership loss if transport was no longer free.

Mayor Regina Romero questioned whether the effort of restarting fares would be worth the estimated revenue.

“It just sounds as though it's a lot of work to pull in maybe $1.4, maybe $2.1 million,” she said.

Councilmembers expressed disappointment that the University of Arizona has not offered funding support, despite being one of its biggest users.

“It is very unfortunate that our academic partners have chosen not to be involved in this conversation because it really would benefit not just their educational institutions, but our entire community,” Romero said.

According to city data, the SunLink streetcar served nearly 1.5 million faculty and students during the last school year.

“It's disappointing, when we can show nearly 70% of [rides] are directly associated with the University of Arizona,” said councilmember Steve Kozachik. “And let's be real, those students are riding from the campus to downtown to party, right, so they're spending more at O'Malley's than they would otherwise spend getting out of the streetcar.”

City Manager Mike Ortega said he is pessimistic that the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, or Tucson Unified School District will offer any funding, and the council needs to consider other options.

The council agreed Ortega should research other tax funding alternatives for discussion at their next meeting, including a bed tax on hotels and a rental car fee.

The council’s next meeting will be March 19.

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