Hours of operation for Tucson’s modern streetcar could be extended to better coincide with bars’ closing time, officials say.
The possibility of extending the streetcar’s current operating schedule is based on recent feedback in surveys completed by students, faculty and staff at the University of Arizona and businesses along the streetcar corridor.
They say running as late as — or later than — 2 a.m. will make the streetcar more convenient to late-night riders along the bar-heavy route, which connects the UA campus to Fourth Avenue and downtown.
City leaders, however, are unsure how to pay for the extended hours.
The current plan is for the streetcars to run until midnight on Thursdays and Fridays and until 2 a.m. on Saturdays, said Shellie Ginn, streetcar project manager.
In the university survey, more than half who responded preferred that the streetcar stay open until at least 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
A separate survey to businesses along the streetcar corridor revealed similar results.
Many students and local bar managers say stopping the trains before bars close could pose a public-safety hazard.
”We don’t condone drunk driving in any shape or form, but people do do that,” said Mitch Preston, general manager of the Auld Dubliner. “People who may gamble on trying to drive home after they’ve had too much to drink would opt to take the streetcar rather than taking the chance of endangering themselves or somebody else, or getting a DUI.”
Extending the hours would make the most sense, he added, as Fridays can often be busier than Saturdays. Many students have no class on Fridays, so Thursday nights can be busy as well.
The cost of extending the current streetcar hours is unknown. Once the streetcar operations team determines a price tag, they can then figure out whether existing resources can be reallocated to cover those costs, said Carlos de Leon, deputy director of the Tucson Department of Transportation. Project co-manager Andrew Quigley said the City Council will make a final decision no later than July 25.
The streetcar operating budget has three main sources of revenue. The city expects to pay $4.5 million to operate the streetcar in its first year. To cover that amount, city officials anticipate the RTA will contribute $1.2 million, fares will cover about $1 million, and Tucson’s general fund will pick up the remaining $2.3 million. Those numbers could rise or fall depending on how many maintenance problems crop up and whether ridership numbers fluctuate over the year.
If that money isn’t enough to cover the streetcar’s existing budget, de Leon said it is unknown what the next step will be.
That worries students and bar managers.
“The kids don’t leave until 1:45, until basically last call,” said Gerard Meurer, a Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company manager.
After leaving, customers crowd around outside, talking before catching a cab or getting a ride home. With so many people trying to board the streetcar, it might not work, he said.
Jessica Cooper, a UA student and a server at Gentle Ben’s, said if the streetcar hours are not extended, she doesn’t see many students using it. When it was being built, students talked about how it could be used for barhopping, she said.
However, Quigley said that is a perception that may need to be tempered with reality.
“We really have to see how this develops and its use,” he said. “We may be going to a solution that may not have a problem.”
After leaving a bar, streetcar riders will be taken to a station, and then will have to figure out how to get home from there.
“And will you have that alternative form of transportation available to you at that stop?” Quigley asked. “There you are, out in the middle of nowhere, 2:30 in the morning, and is there a cab?”