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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


ASUA celebrates free Tucson Sun Link extension, but ‘we’re not exactly at the finish line yet’

ASUA Student Body President Patrick Robles rides the SunLink with University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins for the #WhyIRide campaign. (Photo by Alex Ray Sanchez)

The Sun Link streetcar will remain fare-free through June 30, 2023. The Tucson City Council extended the fare suspension for all Sun Tran services at their Dec. 20 study session.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona, led by Student Body President Patrick Robles, has been advocating to keep the streetcar free since the beginning of the fall 2022 semester.

“I just felt this overwhelming sense of relief for our student community,” Robles said of the moment the Tucson City Council approved the extension.

This is the fourth time that the Tucson City Council voted to suspend fare collection for all Sun Tran services. Robles said that ASUA played a major role in the latest extension of the fare suspension.

“We were sounding the alarm that fare-free transit was going to not be fare-free anymore, that we were going to be paying to use this necessity, and so we got organized from the start. We were at city council meetings. Myself and members of my team, we were meeting one on one with city council leaders and the mayor’s office,” Robles said.

Robles added that he met with the university’s executive leadership and with business leaders within the Sun Link corridor, specifically in the Rio Nuevo district and the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association

ASUA held a town hall on Aug. 24 to allow students to share their thoughts on fare-free transit with representatives from Sun Tran. Several students voiced opposition to the return of fares, saying that it would be yet another expense piled onto the steep cost of a university education.

“Fare-free transit, in my opinion, is a plus and positively aids a student’s decision in wanting to come here,” Robles said, citing rising tuition and cost of living as limiting factors for many prospective students.

In September, ASUA launched #WhyIRide, a campaign to rally students and other members of the university community to voice their support for fare-free transit. Several ASUA officials attended a Tucson City Council meeting on Sept. 13, during which Robles asked the City Council to support the continuation of fare-free transit. 

Students make up a substantial portion of Sun Link ridership. Full-time and part-time university students collectively constitute about 70% of streetcar riders, according to a 2019 Sun Tran survey.

Members of the city council met with University of Arizona leaders to discuss a partnership to keep the Sun Link free, but City Manager Michael Ortega said the university is not quite ready to contribute until it sees more data. Ortega said that the city is currently collecting data to present to potential partners in the future.

Ortega listed some of these potential partners during the session, which include the University of Arizona, Pima Community College and Tucson Unified School District, as well as some entities in the private sector which weren’t named except for Raytheon Technologies, which is already a partner.

After about 15 minutes of discussion, Vice Mayor Lane Santa Cruz motioned to extend the fare suspension for Sun Tran services. The motion passed without opposition.

“I really want to thank Vice Mayor Santa Cruz. She came down to the ASUA office, and she met with myself and our team to hear first-hand what our thoughts were on this issue, where she can help or [how] we can come together to collaborate. She’s been our biggest ally from the start,” Robles said.

He also thanked Mayor Regina Romero’s office for being resourceful and accommodating to ASUA’s efforts. However, Robles made clear that the job was not finished.

“This coming semester I’m going to continue working with city leaders and University Executive Leadership to help both institutions, both organizations, strike a deal that will allow fare-free transit to continue beyond June 2023,” Robles said.

“We’re not exactly at the finish line yet.”

Follow Kristijan Barnjak on Twitter

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