Tens of thousands of Tucsonans may have descended on downtown to ride the streetcar last weekend when it was free.
But questions remained about how many would ride when it hit them in the pocketbook.
The answer: About as many as the city expected.
Tucson nearly hit its mark for first-day ridership on the streetcar when 3,500 people hopped aboard the vehicle between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday.
That’s about 100 fewer than what city officials estimated would ride the line each day.
The city lacked data on how many dollars were generated from the 3,500 riders.
Despite coming up just short of the mark, city officials were pleased with the results.
They said they were less concerned with projected numbers at this point than with educating the public on how to ride the streetcar and where to purchase fare cards.
Streetcar project manager Shellie Ginn said having that many riders on a languid Monday in July bodes well for future streetcar ridership.
Ginn said this is the slowest time of year and expects those numbers to climb when University of Arizona students return next month and winter visitors arrive later in the year.
While it’s too soon to detect any ridership trends, Sun Link General Manager Steve Bethel said ridership remained steady throughout the day, with spikes between 9:30 and 10 a.m. and from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Ginn said it would take weeks of data before they could decipher any patterns.
Streetcar daily ridership projections have varied over the years with a peak of about 5,600 at one point.
The numbers fluctuated mostly because the city lacked concrete numbers on how many university students would get passes, Ginn said.
Some riders were baffled by streetcar fares. Many were unaware that the kiosks at the streetcar stops sold only $4, all-day passes and that single-ride tickets required a SunGo card that can’t be purchased at a streetcar kiosk.
Ginn said the city decided to offer one type of fare at the kiosks to minimize kiosk expenses. Other cities have experienced technical problems with kiosks when they contain too many options, she said.
“We were trying to keep it as simple as possible,” Ginn said.
With students and their subsidized transit passes from the university expected to comprise half of all streetcar riders, Ginn said many who ride the line won’t need to worry about daily fares.
SunGo cards and tickets can be bought and reloaded at various city offices, recreation centers and Fry’s Food Stores throughout the region. Find a list of sites at suntran.com and follow the fares link.