Rehabilitation specialist Velvet Willits shields herself as she directs Sun Van traffic in the parking lot outside the Beacon Group building, 308 W. Glenn St. Beacon hires disabled workers, many of whom use the Sun Vans to get to and from work.

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

The vans start pulling into the parking lot below Patrick McCarthy’s second-floor office window about 2:30 every afternoon.

One after another, a virtual sea of white-roofed Sun Vans blankets the parking lot as Beacon Group employees line up to go home after another day of work.

The director of development for the nonprofit isn’t surprised to learn that 15 percent of all Sun Van trips are to places of employment.

A new study by Sun Van officials found that 15 percent of all trips went to medical appointments; 7 percent used the paratransit service for recreational services; and 5 percent went to grocery stores.

Not surprisingly, roughly 43 percent of the one-way trips took riders home at the end of the day.

McCarthy and others in the nonprofit community are concerned that the proposed elimination of the low-income rate Sun Van will lead those with a serious developmental or physical disability to have to choose between going to work and the grocery store.

The transit service is asking its poorest riders to shoulder more of the cost of the service — proposing to triple the one-way fares over the course of the next 11 months.

Currently, the economy fare is $1 for each trip for those who qualify for the reduced fare. Full fare is $3 each way.

The proposal to raise fares is “devastating” for some of her employees, said Liz Gulick, director of programs and marketing for Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona.

With more than 600 employees in the greater Tucson area, Gulick said roughly 45 employees have a developmental or physical disability. She estimates that more than two dozen cannot use a regular bus, nor can they afford to pay the full fare of $3 per trip.

Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, who is expected to review the proposed fare increase , said she is open to a compromise to reduce the size of the proposed fare hike.

One possibility, she said, would be to find a way to distribute the fare increase across the entire organization, rather than just to Sun Van riders.

The Tucson City Council is expected to review the fare increase at its Tuesday meeting.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson

By the numbers, Sun Van

Trip purpose Percentage
Housing 43
Employment 15
Medical 15
Food shopping 9
Recreational/personal 7
Day Care program 5
Education 3
Senior program 2
Source: Sun Van, * = figures rounded to nearest whole number