Reporter- Bret Buganski

Aug 12, 2014 11:59 AM by Bret Buganski

N4T Investigators: Empty Buses

TUCSON- For the avid bus rider, they know which ones are jammed packed, but also the empty ones. So we wanted to know why the city would run a bus if it's not in high demand. The News 4 Tucson Investigators found out that shutting down a route is not even an option for the city.

"Every day of the week," said Josh Harris, describing how often he rides Sun Tran Route 61, La Cholla.

This same route, according to the city of Tucson's Transportation Department, has the lowest ridership in all of the Sun Tran system, attracting an average of 15,000 riders per month. Route 8, or Broadway and South 6th Avenue has the highest ridership, averaging 250,000 riders per month.

"Early in the morning and late in the evening they're all packed really heavy," said John Doitch, who says he's seen the crowded buses first hand.

"I take the bus every Monday Wednesday and Friday and just go cruise around Tucson," he added.

Deputy transportation director for the city of Tucson, Carlos de Leon said there's always room for improvement.

"Some of the routes although they are not high ridership routes are very important in terms of what they do for people in terms of life line," said de Leon.

One of the routes de Leon is describing is Route 37, Pantano Road, which operates between Pima Community College East and Cloud Road.

It's one of three routes the city's transportation department calls "the least productive in the system." So we rode along one late morning and for nearly 15 minutes we noticed the bus was empty.

"We have looked at this, probably, this route," said de Leon, as the News 4 Tucson Investigators showed him our video.

But de Leon said this same route is one the department is recommending to city council of restructuring the route and discontinuing the segment north of Tanque Verde Road along Sabino Canyon to Cloud Road/Pantano Road. This very same section just happened to be where our cameras caught the emptiness.

But what about Route 61, which has the lowest ridership?

The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked de Leon, "does that route make enough money to make it worth it, to even operate?"

"Overall we're not in for the profit in looking at routes," said de Leon.

He called that route a "life-line" for those passengers given the fact the route takes them to both the Tucson and Foothills Malls, as well as Northwest Medical Center.

"Those are critical routes even though it's not a high ridership route very important for people to have mobility through the region," added de Leon.

He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators there is no plans at this time of eliminating any bus routes.

"Well, no matter what you do people aren't going to be happy one way or another," said Doitch.

For Harris, the route is critical because he doesn't have a car and depends on it for tasks like grocery shopping.

"So when I get back home and put the groceries away I'll come back out," said Harris. "I'm used to it as long as I'm not running for it."

And to make Sun Tran routes even more efficient, the city of Tucson's Transportation Department plans to run every single bus on compressed natural gas within the next 10 years. But the department is also recommending to city council of raising the price of Sun Tran passes. That proposal will be introduced this fall.

If you have a tip for the News 4 Tucson Investigators, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call 520-955-4444.

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