The city of Tucson made transit free to ride in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic and now the city council has extended that experiment through June 30, 2023, the end of the city’s fiscal year.

The extension buys city leaders time to continue talks with potential funders, including school districts, colleges and major employers, to identify new funding to replace fares.

The city has been using one-time federal grant money and other taxpayer dollars to fill in the revenue that would otherwise have come from fares. The one-time money will have been spent by the new June 30 deadline to decide how to fund the transit system, which includes Sun Link, Sun Tran, and Sun Van services.

The pandemic created a new normal for transit riders and the city should work creatively with partners to fund it, Vice Mayor Lane Santa Cruz said at a city council study session on Dec. 20. Many riders including students have grown accustomed to riding for free during the nearly three years.

City council members kicked around various funding ideas at their Dec. 20 study session, including more advertising on buses and bus shelters.

The system costs about $65 million a year to operate, and before the pandemic, fares paid for about $9 million, or 13%. Previously the city charged $1.75 for a regular fare and 75 cents for an economy fare.

Arizona Luminaria has been covering this issue all year. Read up on the topic below.

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Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.