The city is determined to open the downtown streetcar line to riders this summer but will need some outside help to do it.
Before it can roll out the passenger service, first the city needs the federal government to grant permission to operate fewer cars than are now mandated.
It’s unlikely the city will have all eight cars by July 25 when it wants to kick off service. Currently, four streetcars rumble down Tucson tracks in various stages of testing. Four more still need to arrive from United Streetcar to satisfy the Federal Transit Administration edict that Tucson must operate six cars with two in reserve along the four-mile route.
Even though the city expects to receive all its cars by early May, rigorous testing standards will prevent all eight from getting greenlighted for service by midsummer.
But city officials believe it’s “critically important” to start the streetcar a month before University of Arizona students return for the fall semester.
So they’ve petitioned the FTA for a waiver for a few weeks or months.
In its initial one-page letter to the FTA on Feb. 13, SunLink co-manager Andrew Quigley said the city would seek permission to operate four or six vehicles while the remaining ones continue testing.
“We thought it was important to get a start date so we could be ready before the hordes of students show up and have our best foot forward,” Quigley said Wednesday.
Quigley said manufacturer delays remain the only impediment to opening the line this summer.
He said the city will outline how it would accomplish running the line at reduced levels and send that information to the FTA as soon as possible.
Quigley said exact hours of operation haven’t been settled. The tentative schedule has the streetcar running longer hours on Friday and Saturday and shorter hours other days.
If the line opens in July, it would be approximately eight months later than the original start date of November 2013.
It would also mean the city would have to start paying for operation and maintenance costs for the line.
The city has tentatively budgeted around $2 million in first-year costs. But that number could rise or fall based on new revenue and expense projections.