Being legally blind and a senior, I ride Sun Van five times a week. Since 2000, I have been a rider of Sun Van, a paratransit service for those with a current Americans with Disabilities Act eligibility card. It is an outstanding service and would receive my grade of A-minus for overall performance.
Luckily, I can afford to pay full fare on Sun Van, $3 for a one-way trip, $6 for round trip, $30 per week, $120 per month. However, there are about 3,100 passengers on Sun Van paying the economy fare who cannot afford full fare.
Sun Van is proposing to raise the economy fare, currently $1, to $2 per trip by October, and raise the economy fare to $3 per trip by July 2014, thus eliminating the lower fare. That is a 200 percent increase for the poor, disabled and elderly individuals. To qualify for the economy fare an individual must have income of less than $1,200 a month.
The actual cost of a trip on Sun Van is $28.75, according to the transit service, and the city of Tucson is trying to recoup some of the cost of the service.
Phasing out the economy fare on Sun Van would be devastating to low-income seniors on Social Security and tight budgets. Seniors would have to choose which trips to take, whether to buy groceries, go to the doctor for preventive services, or go weekly to places such as the Tucson Society of the Blind or the Southern Arizona Association of the Visually Impaired.
About 90 percent of the visually impaired association’s clients are Sun Van riders, many on the economy fare. If the elderly can’t afford to go to doctors, they will end up in the emergency rooms and later in expensive nursing homes.
Socialization for seniors is critical to reduce social isolation and depression and build friendships, which leads to longer and healthier lives. For low-income seniors going to places like Armory Park, the free lunch may be their only daily meal.
If you attended the packed room of the public open house on Aug. 15, you would have heard heartbreaking stories of how raising the economy fare will hurt the mentally challenged who ride Sun Van to work at Beacon or Goodwill. Many make much less than minimum wage. One parent mentioned that her daughter made $30 a week, and with the proposed rate hike she would not even have enough money left over to buy a soda on her break.
And if Sun Van had notified the 3,100 Sun Van riders of the proposed rate hike, the outcry of pain would have been heard clear to Phoenix. Most people are still not aware of the proposed rate hike.
The City Council members will vote on eliminating the economy fare on Sun Van on Tuesday. You can still leave feedback by calling or emailing council members. Comments can also be left by calling Sun Tran 792-9222, or calling Sun Van 798-1000 and asking for a supervisor.
Yes, the city needs more money to fund Sun Van. But tripling the rate for 3,100 low-income, disabled riders is not the answer and will have a catastrophic impact on their quality of life.
I realize that the city does not have to provide an economy fare on Sun Van. But Tucson is a caring and special community. I have faith that our City Council members will make the right decision and vote no on the proposed rate hike.
And I give thanks every day for the reliable Sun Van service, taking me where I need to go.