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OPINION: The Sun Link is how much? I think I’ll walk

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An eastbound SunLink tram is stopped at the Main Gate Square station on University Boulevard on Friday, July 20, 2018.

Like many Tucsonans, I have a few criticisms of the streetcar (and I’m still a little sore from the time the ticket machine ate my $20). Overall, though, I think it does a great job linking the heart of Tucson together. But it’s just way too expensive.

The Sun Link costs $4.50 for a 24-hour pass. This is comparable to Phoenix’s Valley Metro Rail ($4.00/day). However, the two are not comparable in the service provided. Phoenix’s rail runs on a 26.3 mile path, and covers that distance in about an hour. In Tucson, from the Sun Link’s last stop to the east on Helen and Warren, to the furthest west at Mercado San Agustin is 3.9 miles. The trip takes about half an hour according to Sun Link.

For us college students with little money to spare, riding the Sun Link is not worth the price of the ticket. Not only is the distance covered limited, but it doesn’t help us get to where we are going too much faster than walking. Often, even when my friends and I are deep in downtown, we decide to walk back to campus rather than waiting for the streetcar. Twice, at least, we actually beat the streetcar to campus. 

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There are several reasons the streetcar runs so slowly. If addressed in the future, the ride might be worth the ticket price. First, the streetcar is subject to traffic in downtown and on Fourth Avenue and to the pesky pedestrians around campus (which I, admittedly, am one of). Second, there are probably twice as many stops than necessary in downtown. The stops on Broadway Boulevard and Stone Avenue and Broadway and 6th Avenue are (not exaggerating) 0.1 miles apart, which is a 3 minute walk from one to the other. 

On the weekends, driving is almost always cheaper than taking the streetcar anywhere, so if we have a car available, my friends always choose that option. 

Yes, UA Parking and Transportation does offer a 50% discount on U-Passes, so that a fall semester pass costs $96 instead of $192. This is a great deal for many students, but generally not for those who live on campus. It pays for itself in 24 days of use, but most students on campus don’t end up using the Sun Link nearly enough to justify paying for the pass. 

Also, it is true that cheaper one-way fares are available for $1.75. However, they’re pretty inaccessible. We can’t purchase them at the stations, nor does a quick glance at the website offer easy instructions on how to get said ticket.

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If Tucson lowered the price of the streetcar to a more reasonable and justifiable $3.00, there would be many benefits for the city. I am sure more students would opt to take the streetcar regularly, and less people would try to avoid the fares. Depending on how much the cost affects the demand, it’s possible that the city would make even more money on the streetcar if the price was lower. Also, if the fares were lower, some would opt out of taking their cars, resulting in less pollution and congestion. Finally, many students would gain the opportunity to see more of what Tucson has to offer (believe me, the difference between $3.00 and $4.50 can be a big one for students). 

Tucson has done a great job in the last few years offering better public transportation. Now, the city just needs to make sure the fares are such that people can take advantage of it. 


Toni Marcheva hopes to be a Tucsonan for life, and wants the city to be the best it can be.




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