Approximately infinity years after I first heard about the program — Pima County voters first approved it in a 2006 transportation bill — the Sun Link Tucson Modern Streetcar, or the Sun Link, is finally up and running. I love public transport, and this new addition to Tucson’s fleet of reasonably priced and (comparatively) safe and clean public transportation vehicles is welcome. But the streetcar still comes with certain drawbacks: a cost greater than zero and the displacement of previous, working routes, especially of the free CatTran route that used to run downtown.
Overcrowding, frequent maintenance and eating shit on your bike are just superfluous benefits.
Traditionally, college students live below the poverty line, and it is with a heavy heart that we part with any surplus income we may have accumulated. This penny-pinching mentality has made it very hard for me to justify how much I like not walking to class.
Sure, I had high hopes, in 2006. But now that they are coming to fruition, I’m torn.
With the CatTran, students have a free and consistently scheduled public transit system that is safe and (mostly) reliable, albeit short on hours and usually over-stuffed. But with the streetcar, students have a wider range of options, a more sustainable ride and an affordable choice — not to mention way better air conditioning.
The route downtown that the streetcar replaced was actually only a temporary route used to connect commuters to downtown and was never intended to be permanent, but for many — myself included — it was how I got to and from school.
Transitioning from this formerly free transit system to the now more-expensive-than-nothing ($189 for an annual pass) streetcar caused some concern for my wallet.
I was worried until Bill Davidson, public information manager for Parking and Transportation Services at the UA, informed me that the city and the university subsidize half of the transportation cost for students.
The subsidized passes for students, staff and faculty may not be free (they are slightly less than half the cost of the $413 annual pass for the rest of the city), but they are an incredibly affordable option that PTS and the city of Tucson plans to continue to subsidize in the future, an option that is well worthwhile for students.
The streetcar has also proved itself fairly popular since its inception, according to Davidson.
“The response to the 30-day free-pass streetcar promotion has been incredible,” Davidson said. “Since the beginning of this summer, more than 8500 students and close to 5000 employees at the UA have signed up for this pass.”
The streetcar garnered constant bystander fatigue and caused massive displacement via construction for years. We were left wondering, “Still? I thought this was supposed to be done ages ago.”
I remember visiting my sister on campus before I was even out of high school and thinking that the streetcar was going to be completed shortly, but again, that was years ago. While I can complain forever about the dangers of local government (where’s Leslie Knope when you need her?), I’m here to say that the streetcar is actually awesome.
But if you are one of the unfortunate students that either sort UA email into spam or just don’t read your emails and didn’t sign up for the free month offered by PTS and the city of Tucson, you’re missing out. Air-conditioned, generally clean and actually not overcrowded, the streetcar is a pretty sweet way to get around a very finite route and I would definitely consider getting a semester-long or annual pass.
—Nick Havey is a junior studying psychology and Spanish. Follow him @NiHavey