GemRide a jewel for rock hounds

2014-02-01T00:00:00Z GemRide a jewel for rock houndsBy Johanna Willett Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

GemRide, the city’s free shuttle system, will ferry treasure hunters to more than 30 gem shows this year.

Running three loops and an express route from the parking hub at Cushing Street and Linda Avenue to the Tucson Convention Center, GemRide takes the guesswork out of getting around the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase. It’s $5 to park at the main hub for the day, and the shuttles stop near various garages downtown.

The Bead Loop, the TCC Express and the Downtown Gem Loop will pick up at the hub. Passengers looking for the Mineral and Fossil Loop can also park here and ride the Downtown Gem Loop shuttle to the Hotel Tucson City Center stop, where routes intersect.

The city of Tucson’s ParkWise sponsors GemRide to get people past concerns about transportation and parking at the shows, program administrator Donovan Durband said.

“I talk to a lot of people who have lived here for a long time who say they have never been to the gem show, and they seem intrigued but fearful or skittish,” Durband said. “They didn’t come because they didn’t know where to go.”

New this year is the Bead Loop, which stretches north to St. Philip’s Plaza at Campbell Avenue and River Road and south to the Kino Veterans Memorial Community Center at Ajo Way between Kino Parkway and Country Club Road.

Because the Bead Loop reaches into unincorporated areas, Pima County helped fund the route, Durband said.

In addition to the six bead shows officially served by this loop, passengers can reach other mineral and fossil shows when the shuttles stops at The Best Bead Show and A Bead Carnival near Ajo Way.

“We wanted to keep the theme tight,” Durband said of the walking-distance shows missing from the official Bead Loop map.

Six charter buses will run through the Bead Loop, the Downtown Gem Loop, the Mineral and Fossil Loop and the TCC Express route. An additional shuttle will go between the parking hub to the JCK Tucson show at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa. Wholesale credentials are required to board this shuttle.

The wait between shuttles will run about five to 10 minutes for the TCC Express, 15 to 20 minutes for the Downtown Gem Loop, 25 to 30 minutes for the Mineral and Fossil Loop and 45 to 60 minutes for the Bead Loop.

Without streetcar construction to contend with this year, Durband expects the routes to run more smoothly. Next year, operating streetcars would remove the need for an express shuttle downtown.

“Our visitors can see that downtown is changing for the better,” Durband said. “We have more restaurants and more businesses for them. They can see the progress we’re making to make downtown look better and work better, with more things to do and more bars and restaurants.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com of 573-4357.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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