New campaign pushes to make public transit free permanently

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 5:54 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - There’s a new push to keep public transportation free. On Tuesday, the Tucson for All coalition announced its new campaign to secure permanently-free public transit, but there are several concerns about the impact this would have on bus drivers and others in Tucson.

The City of Tucson made public transit free at the start of the pandemic. It’s set to expire in about three months unless it’s extended again.

“In reality, the fares are a barrier, and we need to take that barrier away because transit needs to be accessible to everyone,” said Suzanne Schafer from Zero Fares Tucson. “Putting the fares back on the buses has the most impact on people who have the least.”

The Tucson for All coalition says transit has become an essential part of everyday life for some. In some cases, they say it empowers people to be able to make it to a doctor’s appointment or get fresh groceries at the store. Something that might not be possible for everyone if free public transit goes away.

Schafer said, “We need community-based solutions to make the environment on the bus is peaceful for everybody riding. To use fares to do that, is just very openly admitting that what you’re trying to do with fares is policing who gets on the bus, control who gets on the bus and limit access.”

There’s a strong push by students from the University of Arizona and transit advocates to keep fares free.

But with the future of public transit in Tucson hanging in the balance, there are several concerns. The first one is about who will ultimately pay if transit is free. It’s still being worked out whether the cost would come down to taxpayers or the city itself.

“We are having the conversation internally with the city manager about the other options for covering that cost, so that it isn’t coming from the general fund and taking away from some of the other services that we have to fund,” said City Councilmember Lane Santa Cruz.

Another concern is public safety on public transportation, specifically for bus drivers.

″I think we’re actually minimizing opportunities for conflict between them,” Santa Cruz said. “But I think it’s important to take serious the safety of drivers and putting in policies that allow for that to be taken serious.”

13 News spoke with some bus drivers off-camera here at the transit center. They said they are against free transit and are concerned about their safety if it continues.

The continuation of free public transit is expected to be discussed at the City Council meeting on April 4.