Plan to hike bus fares draws criticism from riders, councilmembers

Sun Tran riders protested possible fare hikes in a demonstration before a Tucson city council meeting

Plan to hike bus fares draws criticism from riders, councilmembers

CREATED Mar 27, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan
Web Producer: Chuck Meyer

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV): Dozens of bus riders rallied before a city council meeting today against a possible hike in fares. Although it’s being discussed as one way to balance the budget, it was evident at the meeting Tuesday that the plan is not popular among bus riders or even city council members.

City council did not act, delaying the discussion until next week.

If the plan goes through, regular fares would jump from $1.50 to $1.75, and low-income fares would go from 50 cents to 85 cents a ride. Many bus riders say they can’t afford that fare; and council members say the city can’t afford to approve the hike - because it's at the expense of the poor.  

“I can barely afford 50 cents living on the streets. It’s hard to come up with two quarters, let alone a bit more. It’s not much (to other people), but to me it means a lot,” said bus rider Donna Martinez.

“I use the bus quite a bit and I’m in the low-income bracket. It affects those who can least afford it,” said Jim Osborne, another rider.

“I think raising fares is balancing the budget on the backs of poor people,” said Brian Flagg of the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen. “I have confidence that these politicians are going to rise through the slumber and stand up for their constituents, which is people on the bus.”

Many city council members also wanted to find another way cover the $3 million dollar Sun Tran deficit, stemming partly from a spike in fuel prices as well as a plan to purchase more environmentally-friendly buses.

“It’s an investment, just like we do for public safety, just like we do for parks, just like we do with roads,” said Councilwoman Regina Romero.

“We’re not out of this economic downturn. There’s still a lot of folks looking for jobs, so they utilize the bus system to get to work and we can work to do this,” said Councilman Richard Fimbres, adding that his constituents make up the bulk of bus riders.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich asked the city’s Transit Task Force to get to work again. During the meeting, she said she was frustrated because the council had asked for a long-term plan, and instead staff tried to fix the budget. 

“It’s not what we need. We are never going to be able to really handle this system effectively and responsibly without a full five-year look,” Uhlich said.

Alternatives to boosting fares include cutting services, working the fare structure or maximizing efficiency by assigning smaller buses to routes with fewer riders – all possibilities that the Council will discuss at their next meeting.