A candidate's request to make Sun Tran buses free for all riders Tuesday, the city's primary election day, was rejected by Tucson officials.

City Manager Mike Ortega twice rejected a request from Ward 3 Democratic candidate Felicia Chew, saying such a request would have to be considered by the mayor and City Council at their next regularly scheduled meeting — which falls after Tuesday's primary.

Chew first reached out to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who appointed her to the Citizen Police Advisory Review Board several years ago, to see if providing free bus service on election day would be possible. Rothschild forwarded the request to Ortega, who rejected the request.

Since the primary is being handled as a mail-in ballot, the city will operate on Tuesday a handful of locations where voters can drop off their ballots, or fill-out provisional ballots, but there are no traditional polling locations in the three wards up for a vote.

"Providing free bus service (on Aug. 29) is a policy issue that would need consideration by the (mayor and council) and there is no meeting scheduled between now and Aug. 29," Ortega replied to Chew.

"Are there any options/alternatives to this rule?," Chew asked in a follow-up email. But Ortega said it was impossible to exclude the council from the decision.

"Since there are potential budgetary and operational impacts, those impacts need to be analyzed and presented to the (mayor and council) in a meeting/study session in order for them to consider action," Ortega wrote.

Undaunted, Chew individually asked the mayor and the entire council Friday night to consider holding an emergency meeting before Tuesday. She said she is asking on the behalf of a number of city voters who would need help getting to one of the city's election centers.

Councilman Steve Kozachik, who is running for another term in Ward 6, says her request is dead on arrival.

"This would cost the system thousands of dollars and would likely benefit a very few voters who chose to go to the polls by bus in three ward-only primary elections instead of mailing in their ballots. If it came to us for a decision, I'd vote against it 10 times out of 10," he said.

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Kozachik is running for re-election, but he has no primary opponent. "If she's elected, she certainly has a lot to learn about budgeting," Kozachik said about Chew.

City spokeswoman Lane Mandle says the city rarely offers free rides on Sun Tran, and when it does the costs are typically covered by a private, third-party sponsor. A rough estimate based on Sun Tran daily revenues suggest a free ridership day would cost the city about $35,000 in lost revenue.

Tom Tronsdal, who is also running as a Democrat in Ward 3, didn't think the request was a good idea. "I don't think it is appropriate," he said. "This is a mail-in election and people have had the opportunity in person since Aug 9." that when ballots were mailed out

Paul Durham, also running as a Democrat in Ward 3, believes Chew's request isn't feasible. "While I support the principle of expanding access to voting, a proposal offered only a couple days before the election cannot be taken seriously," he said.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson


Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.