Sun Tran riders could see changes — mostly service cuts — to their bus routes and schedules this summer, if the Tucson City Council approves a series of recommendations from the agency.
Sun Tran wants to make changes to 28 of its 40 regular and express bus routes as it attempts to meet updated passenger demands while saving money.
The changes, which are not finalized, have been presented to the public for feedback during open houses.
Sun Tran expects to present its final recommendations to the Tucson City Council on May 20. The initial recommendations would save the city $2.4 million.
The agency is proposing a myriad of changes, which include combining some routes, splitting other routes into two, discontinuing service to some areas while expanding it to other neighborhoods.
The changes would also affect wait times on those routes, with some people waiting longer and others seeing an increased frequency of buses along their route.
Sun Tran crafted the proposed changes after conducting a comprehensive operational analysis, which reviews ridership statistics systemwide, as well as along routes, segments of routes and bus stops.
“It takes market-driven data and determines if the current service frequency and routing structures have changed or remained the same,” said Mary McLain, Sun Tran assistant general manager. “In this case, it’s been quite a while since the effort was undertaken by the city.”
McLain said the agency last conducted such an analysis in 1997.
Quite a while, indeed.
Most transit agencies conduct this type of analysis every five to seven years, but Sun Tran held off because of the city’s budget constraints, McLain said.
Sun Tran also solicited passenger input through surveys.
In addition, Sun Tran conducted a bus/rail interface review to determine which routes might duplicate service along the modern streetcar line.
Sun Tran found four routes that could become redundant with the streetcar: Routes 9, 20, 109 express and the downtown loop.
Routes 9 and 20, which serve separate segments of Grant Road, would be combined into one route, stretching it from East Tanque Verde and North Sabino Canyon roads to West Ironwood Hills Drive, west of North Greasewood Road.
The new route would no longer serve the University of Arizona mall or the Ronstadt Transit Center downtown.
The 109, which currently runs between downtown, and East Catalina Highway and Tanque Verde Road, would no longer serve the Tanque Verde area, but better serve the University of Arizona.
The express bus also would no longer travel along East Speedway, North Swan Road or Columbus Boulevard.
The downtown loop would be discontinued.
While Sun Tran may be overdue for service changes, especially with the anticipated opening of the streetcar this summer, some of its passengers aren’t happy.
The Bus Riders Union held a news conference last week to decry the proposed changes.
Union members expressed the most displeasure at the timing of the recommendations, while saying splitting some bus routes would cause an inconvenience for passengers, who would have to contend with transfers and longer wait times.
Some members said Sun Tran and the city should delay service changes until after the streetcar is operating.
“For someone to get off the bus and get on the trolley to go a half-mile, the situation is not practical,” said union member Mark Blaich.
Sun Tran officials said they received some negative comments from the public, but some people also supported the changes.
Overall, ridership demands were just as important for agency officials as public feedback.
“We learned ridership patterns have changed quite a bit,” McLain said.