Sun Tran financial report raises more questions, offers few answers

2013-08-30T00:00:00Z Sun Tran financial report raises more questions, offers few answersBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The cost of implementing the mandatory new fare cards known SunGo is still not known, nearly two months after the problem-plagued system was put in place.

Problems with defective magnetic strip cards, malfunctioning card readers on some buses and issues with the computerized recording of account balances and expiration dates left many riders stranded and eventually led to Sun Tran taking riders’ word they had a valid card.

Still, the transit service’s July report, released earlier this week in response to an Arizona Daily Star public-records request, suggests ridership and revenues were up from last year, with a slight decrease in the maintenance and operations budget — figures even Sun Tran officials were skeptical about.

Kate Riley, general manager for Sun Tran and Sun Van, said the report “overstated” the actual figures. But said she generally felt ridership and revenue were up despite numerous problems with SunGo cards in July.

The mass-transit system — which provided nearly 20 million rides in the 2012 fiscal year — has been beset by problems for the entire month as it phased out the paper slips it had been using for the last 15 years in favor of plastic cards equipped with RFID chips.

The information provided by Sun Tran to the city of Tucson, in some cases, offered conflicting information.

The agency reported a 14 percent increase in revenue in July but only a 10 percent increase in riders.

Sun Tran said it had a 38 percent increase in revenue from full-fare riders, but the same report said the increase in the actual number of full-fare riders was up 59 percent.

In an even greater anomaly, Sun Tran reported a 53 percent increase in riders buying a day pass while experiencing a 62 percent decrease in revenues from day-pass sales.

Riley partially blamed the inconsistent reports on a glitch in the computer system that would default to reporting many cards as a full fare, even when their holders were paying a different rate.

The report also identified an estimated 1,300 issues created by the implementation of the SunGo system, forcing some employees to work nights and weekends to address issues.

While the July report states a 3.3 percent decline in operating expenses, Riley also expressed skepticism about that figure and said it will likely be revised upward in coming weeks.

Known issues included defective cards, fare boxes unable to read cards properly, negative balances showing up, transfers not being loaded by drivers, day passes expiring early and incorrect fare amounts being deducted.

Riley says she expects to revise the report, which relied heavily on staff estimates and reports generated by the SunGo contractor, SPX Genfare.

She said there is no timetable in place to revise the figures, stating the agency is working closely with the contractor to resolve issues with the reporting system.

The mass-transit system relies heavily on financial help from government agencies, including a $43 million annual subsidy from the city of Tucson.

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

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Election 2014 video

More

Meet the Candidate: Doug Ducey for Governor

Doug Ducey explains his plan for economic growth.

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...
Get weekly ads via e-mail