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Humming along: Streetcar ridership besting projections

In the first week of paid ridership, Tucsonans took 28,000 trips aboard the new Sun Link streetcar system. With an average of more than 3,900 riding daily, the system's early ridership is more than the projection of 3,600. Officials said they expect ridership to increase as University of Arizona students return.

Last week, 27,730 riders took a trip on the four-mile streetcar line. Early in the week, ridership was slightly below the forecast average, but an increase Friday through Sunday means the streetcar carried well above the projected number.

In the first four days of paid ridership, nearly 13,000 Tucsonans jumped aboard the new Sun Link streetcar system. Over the system's opening weekend, some 60,000 took advantage of three days of free rides on the four-mile route.

Monday, 3,500 took a ride on the streetcar. Tuesday saw 3,140 riders on the route. On Wednesday, 3,130 rode the streetcar, while 3,200 rode on Thursday. On Friday, 4,900 rode, with 4,630 on Saturday and 5,220 on Sunday.

Early in the first week, officials said the number of riders  were just less than projections, but cautioned that ridership should be judged over time.

"We reached 3,500 for our first day, which we are very pleased with considering the UA is not even in session yet," said city spokeswoman Lane Mandle on Tuesday.

City officials had previously estimated that early ridership would be about 3,600 daily.

That forecast of "average daily ridership," provided to the Federal Transit Administration in 2009, covered the first months of operations, not just the first few days.

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"Let's talk next Monday and see where we are," city spokesman Mike Graham said last week. Ridership shouldn't be judged by the first days of paid operation, but over time, he said.

While there may still be curiosity-seekers during an early honeymoon period contributing to ridership statistics, officials pointed to other factors that will play into long-term ridership.

With the University of Arizona about to start the fall semester, and weekend events such as 2nd Saturdays attracting thousands Downtown, ridership would likely meet the projections even if the occasional weekday is less than the forecast, Graham said. Also, workers at Downtown businesses may find ways to make the streetcar part of their daily routine.

Graham noted that widespread reports that the streetcar was projected to have 5,000 daily riders are based on an outdated projection. A ridership estimate of 5,700 daily included UA students being assessed a mandatory fee and given semester streetcar passes. That methodology was dismissed by the FTA and the 3,600 figure was included in the city's 2009 winning TIGER grant application. 

An earlier projection, made in 2006, estimated that ridership would be 4,200 daily in 2020.

A breakdown of how many riders purchased one-way fares, daily or monthly passes wasn't yet available, nor was the amount of operating revenue over the first days, Graham said last week. Ridership numbers are tabulated from data collected by sensors on the streetcars.

"There is no 'break even' number. We are providing a public service. Fare box recovery doesn't cover 100 percent of the operating costs," Graham said.

Fares are $1.50 for a one-way ticket, with $4 daily passes and $42 monthly passes available. Fares and transfers are good on both the Sun Link streetcar and Sun Tran bus system.

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Latest comments on this storyRead all 4 »

Aug 6, 2014, 8:54 am
-4 +2


Well, I am pleased you can at least partially see what I’m saying.

After riding the trolley on Saturday, I have a better understanding of the chaos of the timing and intervals. When the westbound trolley I was on was attempting to come out of the 4th avenue underpass. It took us at least four light cycles that I counted to finally get through.

My biggest complaint about this whole project from the beginning until now is the money. My second biggest complaint is the fact that the traffic lights aren’t in sync with the trolleys. I never understood the desire for the permanency of the tracks. All these years, I thought to myself “well, at least the choo choo trains can be synced to the traffic lights like Phoenix’s is”. Once I realized that wasn’t the case, in my mind this whole entire thing became pointless. If the trolleys aren’t going to have right-of-way, there really is no point to having tracks…none.

Aug 5, 2014, 2:08 pm
-0 +5

When i saw there were comments on this article I thought to myself, “Let’s see what Brett has to complain about”.

I agree with you that intervals on Friday and Sturday night need to be increased to 10mins, that is a valid complaint. Additionally, they do need to work on timing as there has been some inconsistency. Finally, some pay systems and other features were not functional and that issue needs to be assesed.

Overall however, the system is running rather well and they are meeting the needs of their estimated ridership. As weeks and months go by, the problems listed above will improve and the experience will get better.

I have been a passenger 4 seperate times since it launched and I am pleasently surprised by what I see. On sunday, I brought my father downtown for lunch and we took a ride. On that ride, an older couple were watching the buildings go by and I hear the husband say to the wife, “We should come down here more often and explore all these places”  That is exactly what needs to happen! More people need to come downtown and realize that the revitalization is taking place and the Streetcar is and will be a catalyst of that.

Aug 5, 2014, 12:37 pm
-7 +1


On my trolley ride, I got to see the big dirt lot I was so excited to see that is west of I-10. While we’re circling it, I overheard two gentlemen saying that this is where the ball park should have been. In retrospect, I have to admit that they’re probably right. What I also overheard is the trolley automated speaker announcing the incorrect stops. It was something like five stops behind. $197 million down the train, and yet another problem? You gotta be kidding me!

Once I was at the end of the line, I saw what was on the other side of the dirt lot…Romero’s office. Now it all makes perfect sense as to why the trolley had to go that far west. The corruption in this town is appalling. Speaking of corruption, right across the street from Romero’s office is a plaque commemorating who really gives her her orders…Grijalva. I thought, this makes sense. It is a project we didn’t need, we cant afford, the route was at least partially determined by corruption, it was over budget, it was two years too late, and several things are broken one week in to service. That fits absolutely perfectly into the legacy that Grijalva has built for himself.

Speculating here, but I’ll bet anything that big dirt lot is owned by some “friends of the program” who wanted to see the trolly surround their lot to artificially increase the value of that dirt.

My niece says she’s done with downtown. I think I am, too. I just wanted a couple of rides on the trolley to see first-hand what was supposedly worth $197 million, and all I did was confirm that I’m right that it is indeed a financial disaster for this community, plagued by mismanagement and supported by kool-aid drinking cheerleaders.

A perfect fit for Tucson. :(

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Streetcars rolling through Downtown were packed Saturday night.