Reporter: Jessica Chapin
TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - A proposal to increase bus fares will most likely fail after city council members brainstormed new ways to save the bus budget Tuesday. City staff floated the idea of raising the city's $1.50 regular fare to $1.75, and discounted rates from 50 to 80 cents last week. It sparked outrage and demonstrations from bus riders.
At a council meeting Tuesday, they reiterated their stance.
"This is a vital investment in the well-being of our people," said St. Mark's Presbyterian pastor Stewart Taylor, who has been helping bus riders speak out against fare hikes.
"The bus is a critical city service that must be funded with the same degree of commitment as police, fire protection and other city services," said Tucson resident Susan Willis.
These sentiments were reflected in the council's study session earlier Tuesday afternoon, where they urged staff to look for new ways to save money with the Sun Tran bus system, like putting smaller buses on less popular routes. Other ideas included increased advertising on buses, and increasing energy efficiency.
council member Karin Uhlich says they're not finished yet, but passengers can rest easy for now.
"There should be no changes I anticipate to fares or service because we're trying to balance the budget by doing better and being more efficient," she said, "some of us have been pressing for these things for two years and I don't want to hear how we're two years behind anymore. We need to act now to institute these changes."
Uhlich says a plan already underway to put new hybrid buses into the system will also save money in the long run. Council members are also asking for a 5-year plan and comprehensive bus rider study. The long-term plan could include fare increases, but Uhlich says they don't want to see a large hike.
"People deserve a long bit of notice if they're costs are going to go up," she said, "especially if they rely on public transportation."
Bus Riders' Union member Julian Mackey said after the study session he was satisfied with the council's plan.
"very much so," he said, "This comes into play whereas it saves the citizens money that doesn't need to be spent unnecessarily."
Tucson is already among the lowest bus fare cities in the country, and has been listed in several reports as a city with easy access to public transportation. Council members say that's something they don't want to change.