On Wednesday the Tucson mayor and council will decide whether to raise bus fares. The fare would go from $1.50 to $1.75 and the low-income fare from 50 cents to 65. A monthly pass would go from $26 to $43. They will also decide whether to cut routes.
This might not seem like much to some people, but for families mired in poverty who come to places such as Casa Maria and the food bank to beg for food to feed their kids, it’s a big deal. People simply cannot afford it.
In a recent Ward 3 newsletter, Councilwoman Karen Uhlich quoted former Mayor George Miller as saying that a budget is a moral document because it spells out the values of the council and the people the members represent.
Thus it would be immoral for the City Council to raise the bus fares. This would be balancing the budget on the backs of poor people who are already suffering from poverty in this, the city with the eighth-worst poverty rate in the entire country.
It would also be hypocritical.
The city and especially Mayor Jonathan Rothschild talk much about poverty. But the only thing they can really do about it with the discretionary funds they have, their general fund, is to protect bus riders.
The city manager claims the city is facing a $33 million budget deficit this year.
But in December the council voted $11 million in raises for almost all employees, including management in the Police and Fire departments, whose salaries are already among the highest in the city.
Additionally, almost $200 million is being spent on the streetcar with the city kicking in $30 million, not to mention the $4.5 million a year it will cost to maintain and operate it.
Last week the council authorized $760,000 for repairs to the Tucson Convention Center.
In the last year, $13 million worth of incentives were given away to developers for downtown projects.
And the list goes on and on.
Raising bus fares is not just a moral issue. It’s also about common sense, economic development and the environment.
Tucson has an award-winning bus system. This is in large part due to a 25 percent fare box recovery. Many similar-sized cities have fare box recoveries that hover around 18 percent. This indicates that Tucsonans do use the bus, both because they must use it to survive but also because it’s a good system that works.
Statistics show that ridership goes down when fares are increased. What we need in Tucson is increased ridership, which will produce more revenue. Raising fares works against increased ridership. Because of climate change and in response to any future jumps in oil prices, using the bus becomes increasingly important for the survival of the planet and the people.
My experience is that the people of Tucson are generous, compassionate and relatively moral. We tend not to elect mean-spirited politicians such as Joe Arpaio or many of the state legislators from the Phoenix area and other parts of the state.
The mayor and council need to realize that not balancing the budget on the backs of poor people will resonate positively with Tucson voters.
If the spirit moves you, contact the mayor and members of the City Council to ask them not to raise fares. Members of the Tucson Bus Riders Union will be out in force at the council meeting Wednesday. Please join us.