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Humming along: Streetcar ridership besting projections

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Humming along: Streetcar ridership besting projections

  • Streetcars rolling through Downtown were packed Saturday night.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comStreetcars rolling through Downtown were packed Saturday night.

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.

"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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