TUCSON, AZ – Tucson’s mayor and council recently voted to keep transit free while negotiating with potential regional partners to make it permanent.
Although the vote definitely extends free fares through the end of this year, the council stated its intention to keep transit free “until there is an affirmative vote to reinstitute those fares.”
The City Council reported that a city stakeholder group will be created to help develop long-term funding solutions and improve service.
On March 17, 2020, the City Manager, in coordination with the Department of Transportation and Mobility (DTM), and Sun Tran, was directed to suspend transit fare collection as part of the City’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the negative financial impact of the pandemic on Tucson residents.
Since the initial suspension of fare collection, the fare collection moratorium has been extended four times, most recently on December 20, 2022. During the transit fare discussion on April 4, 2023, local officials presented additional information on funding options and a detailed look at ridership data across the transit network.
As part of the current considerations, Sun Tran, Sun Link and Sun Van are currently operating fare-free until June 30, 2023. The Mayor’s Office has been in correspondence with local agencies, including the University of Arizona, Pima Community College (PCC), and Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to discuss partnerships to help fund transit services.
According to the City Council, extending fare-free transit through December 31, 2023, will allow time to both continue these conversations and engage other transit stakeholders to discuss funding strategies for the transit system.
It was also reported that within the financial considerations, the City Manager’s FY 23/24 Recommended Budget includes the assumption of continuing fare-free transit through December 2023, at an estimated cost of $4.6 million. This would be accomplished from several sources, with any remaining amount to be paid for by Investment Plan dollars allocated to Transit.
The total cost to operate Tucson’s public transit system was about $107 million last fiscal year, according to the city. About $47 million from America’s Rescue Plan funds and $20 million from the city’s general fund covered most of the transit costs, while the rest came from federal grants, Regional Transportation Authority and advertising revenue.
Tucson estimates that over the past three years it has lost $30 million in fare revenue.