Barbie Urias imagines her family waiting at a hot bus stop with no shade in the middle of nowhere, with no convenience stores in sight.
But her imagination will become reality all too soon because of bus service changes that take effect Aug. 2 due to Tucson’s financial woes.
The Tucson City Council on Tuesday approved the fiscal 2016 budget, which cut transit funding by $2.4 million.
Cutting bus stops and running buses less often on nine routes will save the city’s transit system $1.4 million. Most of the rest of the reduction is from delaying a paving project and cutting administrative costs.
For riders like Urias, it will mean longer wait times, longer rides and different pick-up points.
On Monday, the council’s Transit Task Force unanimously voted to recommend against the cuts.
Jeremy Papuga, city transit administrator, told the task force that city staffers tried to cause the least amount of inconvenience to bus patrons.
And, the changes will affect less than 25 percent of Sun Tran passengers, he said.
“At the end of the day you need to know that our goal is to maintain the health of the system and minimize the impact on our customers, and improve service where possible,” Papuga said.
Camille Kershner, a Sun Tran rider who depends on the bus for her work commute, told the task force and the council she probably will have to wait longer for a Route 8 bus on East Broadway.
“Reducing cost by attrition is not efficiency,” Kershner said.
City staffers said changing stop times on Route 8 will save $326,000.
Kershner said her eight-hour work day already lasts about 12 hours because of Sun Tran’s current limitations.
Route 10, serving the Flowing Wells area, will eliminate five stops between North La Cañada Drive and Stone Avenue along West River Road. The reduction will affect 12 percent of its average weekday passengers.
And, seven stops will be eliminated on Route 34, the Craycroft-Fort Lowell line, based on lack of use.
Buses on Route 25 will run less often on South Park Avenue, and the long trip to Tucson International Airport will be a regular part of the route.
Conversely, riders traveling on Route 3, running between Pima Community College’s East and West campuses, will see an increase in service. Some of the demand will be split by Route 28, and mid-day service will run every 30 minutes.
Urias, a Tucson Bus Riders Union member, spoke against the reduction of transit funds at the City Council meeting.
Urias is mainly concerned with how the decrease in bus frequency will affect riders, specifically those who use Route 27, which runs from the south-side Laos Transit Center to Casino Del Sol west of the city.
“You just can’t manage your time when you have long frequencies” in between buses, Urias said, not to mention it’s uncomfortable standing in the sun for extended periods.
During the evening hours, for example, time between bus pick-ups will increase from 40 minutes to one hour on Route 27.
The decision to cut funding may help the city close its budget shortfall, but will ignore the needs of the public, Urias said.
“It’s all because the city wants to save money, but what about the people?” she asked.
Suzanne Schafer, transit task force vice chairwoman, said cutting bus services with low ridership to solve budget problems only makes ridership lower and puts the city in a cyclical trap.
“There’s really no end to that process,” she said.