TUCSON’S DOWNTOWN NEW STREET CAR SYSTEM ROLL OUT OVERWHELMINGLY RECEIVED BY 60,000 RIDERS EMBRACING THE NEW RIDE
The new Tucson Street Car System was rolled out for public inspection last weekend much with the fan fare of a Walt Disney Production this pumpkin of a RTA project, might well bloom into a Cinderella story, if the 60,000 riders who participated each buy a monthly pass. Realistically, Tucson expects the daily fare to run around 3600 riders each day, instead of the 17,000 who rode Friday, the 25,000 who rode Saturday or the 17,000 counted on Sunday, today each trip costs $1.50 or $4 for 24 hours or $40 for monthly coverage.The free weekend was a lot like Disneyland’s Log Ride, each car was filled (about a 100 people), and the backup buses picking up overflow from the Street Car were filled of folks too tired to wait for another Streetcar. Saturday night in the middle of the 25,000 crush, the Street Cars filled up, and stacked up somewhere because around 9 pm no street car could be found. Six passed us going West and after more than an hour one East bound street car showed up and filled up remarkably tightly, but riders seemed to embrace the armpit laced journey. I noted Mayor Rothchild on that last Street Car on the “Street Car to NoWhere”… he or someone arranged for stranded voters to be picked up and taken to their cars. Where the rest of those street cars went I can not say, perhaps they all stacked up on the bridge across the Santa Cruz.
In fact, at that point, I noted how “Eastern” an experience this Street Car ride had become. It reminded me of train rides I have had in the “rustbelt” of the East Coast, and found there is an element in Tucson who wants to embrace more of an Eastern lifestyle. Many of those folks live near downtown and now find themselves living along the Street Car route and will no doubt embrace this new conveyance into their travels. There is another part of Tucson who scarcely noticed, in spite of the $OneBillion rollout investment for infrastructure, they will never go downtown and will not benefit greatly from the City’s new toy.
The tightening up of downtown parking continues to push motorists into parking garages. It will continue to get worse, Tucson plans adding parking meters to what little open parking still exists, you don’t like parking meters? Wait until you get one of the $187.50 parking tickets, you won’t like them any better. This is summer, wait until the snowbirds and next semesters students arrive, there will not be any parking at all. Realizing last weekend as a “learning moment” I joined friends on Saturday afternoon, to go downtown and meet another couple for dinner, we parked at the University Medical Center, walked to the Street Car and rode downtown.
Pretty easy travel getting on a car and heading into town (the day before I hit the UA just before 5 pm and the street cars were all packed solid and everyone knew each other) but after 8 pm, when the Street Car was supposed to quit on Sunday (the overflow bus was full also) conductors continued to run because people continued to line up for the street car.
But last weekend was also about adventure. Kids loved it! Most kids saw very little since their point of view was at the belt buckle level-but still they soldiered on… The UA types seemed jazzed since this Street Car is really aimed at them and the 5000 plus UA students now living downtown, they will get the most from this investment, while others will have to pay the freight. Sixty police officers were assigned the New Street Car system last weekend and there will be additional staffing, in addition to the already increased downtown policing to deal with the new reality there. Many have complained the Street Car is not “bike friendly” and recent studies show 87 bike riders who have already had serious injuries and for others, the new system has disrupted their daily commutes. I witnessed a young women bike rider accidentally ride into the track which grabbed her front wheel–froze it–which spun the young rider headfirst into the pavement as the rear wheel continued to travel, paramedics were called. The long roll out has hindered businesses, keeping away shoppers for almost 2 years, the route saw business’s fold and solicited “the Street Car to NoWhere” mood among the survivors. It wasn’t surprising to see members of the Tucson Transportation Staff drinking Friday celebrating the launch of “SUNLINK” Tucson Street Car, their baby to present to the public. At each of the 20 stations along the Street Car route, volunteers lectured those waiting in safety, and they offered cold water bottles from a kid’s swimming pool, filled with bottles and ice.
And last weekend was festive. Folks turned out for the new ride and showed great patience and few seemed disappointed. Many supporters believe the new street car system is breathing new life into Tucson’s once dead downtown. The truth is–Downtown has been growing and gathering critical mass for the past few years, local investment, the Rio Nuevo projects buoyed by key local movers and shakers who continue to mold this city around the history that built it. Projects like the San Augustin Mercado on Tucson’s westside, or the greening of the San Augustin Mission Gardens at the base of A-Mountain, are still buds of growth, which few Tucsonan’s have yet discovered. Perhaps the completion of the Street Car which now runs into that development will provide the incentive needed to launch west side infill. In the next 3 to 5 years, developers plan to build 700 to 800 additional residences, both high and low end. That construction should begin in the fall, while more retail and a questionable “boutique hotel” are also planned.
Advocates look forward to the day when the system expands further east to Wilmot Road and eventually north up La Cholla to the Pima College North Campus. Light rail in Phoenix which runs from Mesa to downtown has been really successful and has helped make downtown Phoenix vital, but so has moving ASU’s Walter Cronkite School there. Presently, the Tucson Street Car runs 3.7 miles from the University of Arizona along University Blvd to North Fourth Avenue through Downtown on Congress across the bridge spanning the Santa Cruz River back under I-10 along Broadway back to Fourth Avenue.
Regular fares will now be charged on the streetcar. A one-way trip is $1.50. Kiosks at the Streetcar Stations will sell for $4 for the next 24 hours, and these machines accept only exact change and credit cards. Passes can be purchased online or at any of the municipal transit system three centers.
Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every 10 minutes 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every 20 minutes
Thursday-Saturday nights: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. every 30 minutes
Saturday: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every 20 minutes
Sunday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every 20 minutes
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