Today I rode the new Tucson streetcar for the first time. I boarded downtown on Congress, rode up to University, and got off and on a couple of times before taking the bus back home. There were some problems with my fare -- I had a SunGo card with $4 on it, and I couldn’t really get a clear answer about whether or not the system would recognize that as a day pass or give me two transfers per fare or what -- but all in all, it was a pleasant smooth ride. The streetcar is an addition that makes Tucson seem more like a 21st century city, but it’s important to remember the reasons why building it was controversial.
While glancing at the SunLink supplement in the Arizona Daily Star that appeared the weekend before the streetcar opened, I noticed more emphasis on businesses and how they will be affected than on on transit users per se. The tone was very self-congratulatory, and under “We Did This… Together” it says, “As you ride our Modern Streetcar today, and admire the more than $1 billion in new development and thousands of new jobs within three blocks of the four-mile route, imagine where we can go next if we do it together.” Such descriptions of this $197 million project focus more on the community development/ business partnership aspects of the streetcar than on the larger transit system it is a part of. (One ad, as an example, encourages you to “show your Wildcat spirit all along the streetcar route with an exclusive UA debit card.”)
Another transit advocacy group, Transit Talks, passed out flyers that said, “If you like the streetcar, you’ll love the bus," and I hope riding the streetcar encourages people to start using the bus system. At the Transit Talks site, you can see a video of Jarrett Walker’s talk in Tucson, and you can also answer a poll that says, “We think bus riders = eco heroes. What do you think?” I think yes.