Long-delayed shuttle service in Sabino Canyon resumed on Monday — operated by the nonprofit Regional Partnering Center, Coronado National Forest officials announced.
“Although the transitional service will be fully operational, implementation will continue during upcoming months as new features and services are incorporated — culminating in delivery of the new, modern electric shuttle system,” said an announcement from Heidi Schewel, spokeswoman for the forest.
“We are pleased to announce that shuttle service is resuming in Sabino Canyon,” said Charles Woodard, Santa Catalina district ranger.
“A lot of careful thought and hard work have gone into getting us to this point.”
Service was suspended last June 30 when the permit expired for the previous operator, Sabino Canyon Tours Inc.
Farhad Moghimi, secretary of the Regional Partnering Center, said, “We look forward to starting the transitional shuttle service for the public as we continue to work with the Forest Service to bring electric shuttle service to Sabino Canyon later this year.”
Schewel was in the canyon Monday as the new shuttle service took effect.
“Every person I talked to has been really, really pleased,” she said.
“The shuttle provides a number of opportunities for people,” Schewel said. “For folks with mobility issues or young people, it’s a way to get up in the canyon. For others, it adds a lot of opportunities besides just walking or riding.
“People can get off and get back on if they want to play along the water or have a picnic.”
The transitional, gasoline-powered shuttles will run on two routes:
- Upper Sabino Canyon route. Shuttles will leave on the half hour every 30 minutes beginning at 9 a.m. The last shuttle will leave at 4 p.m. Shuttle vehicles will carry up to 21 passengers each. Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $5 for children 3 to 12, and free for children under 3.
- Bear Canyon route. Shuttles will leave on the quarter hour every 30 minutes beginning at 9:15 a.m., with the last shuttle leaving at 4:15 p.m. Shuttle vehicles will carry up to 21 passengers each. Ticket prices are $6 for adults, $4 for children 3 to 12, and free for children under 3.
Forest officials said only three vehicles will be operating for the first few days of shuttle service on the Upper Sabino Canyon route because a windshield is being replaced on a fourth vehicle.
The transitional shuttle service will operate seven days a week. The service will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas and up to three additional days, as needed, for construction and maintenance.
The Regional Partnering Center, a nonprofit managed by the Pima Association of Governments, has ordered electric shuttles from Trams International, with Tucson Electric Power helping to finance the purchase of the vehicles, Coronado Forest officials said.
“The zero-emission electric shuttles, expected later this year, will carry passengers safely, quietly and efficiently through Sabino Canyon, which attracts approximately one million visitors annually,” a news release from forest officials said.
“The 62-passenger electric shuttles will be equipped with an audio narration and interpretive system available in English and Spanish and accessed through the use of audio jacks and headsets.”
Many people took advantage of the resumption of shuttle service on Monday.
Here are some of their observations.
Among the riders taking the shuttle in Sabino Canyon were Tucsonan Alan Edwards and his friend Joe Spiteri from Acton, Ontario, Canada.
“The new tram ride narrative is probably more detailed than before,” said Edwards, a mining engineer.
In the past, the shuttle drivers provided information about the canyon as they continued along the road.
Instead, the narrative is recorded, Edwards said.
“And now the driver is able to focus on the road,” he said.
Which is good thing, because the new shuttles are wider than the previous vehicles, and that makes it more difficult when they come to the bridges that cross the creek, Edwards said.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said, “but it must have been stressful for the driver.”
For Spiteri, a geologist, it was his first time riding the shuttle in Sabino.
As before, the shuttle is able to drop people off at various stops along the canyon road, which is a good idea, he said.
But Spiteri said he was also attracted to the scenery.
“What surprised me was how green everything is,” he said.