1) What is the Major Transit Investment Study?

The Tucson Department of Transportation (TDOT) is conducting a federally sponsored Major Transit Investment Study to identify potential transit solutions in central Tucson. A major step in this study was to identify the appropriate transit technology and alignment that met the study’s purpose and need. After more than a year of research and collaboration with residents, businesses and experienced consultants, the Modern Streetcar operating on a defined alignment was unanimously approved as the locally preferred alternative by the study’s Citizens Advisory Committee and Technical Advisory Committee, as well as Tucson’s Mayor and Council. The Modern Streetcar was also approved by voters in the May 16, 2006 election by approval of the Regional Transportation Plan.

2) What alternatives were considered?

The study began by considering five alternatives: 1) no build (maintain existing service), 2) transportation system management (low cost transit improvements designed to be more efficient in lieu of a fixed guide-way alternative), 3) Rapid Bus Circulator, 4) Historic Trolley, and 5) Modern Streetcar. The list of alternatives was shortened to the Modern Streetcar and Rapid Bus Circulators after evaluating capacities, costs, operations, and effects on land use. A bus system is less expensive to build and operate, but only for the beginning years. Modern streetcar vehicles last 25 to 30 years because there are fewer mechanical parts to maintain and less wear and tear. Buses last about 10-15 years and then need to be replaced. Streetcar vehicles carry double (127 passengers) the capacity of a regular bus (60 passengers), so the cost per passenger is lower for streetcar operations.

Rapid Bus Circulator
Rapid Bus CirculatorA Rapid Bus Circulator is a form of high-capacity enhanced rubber-tired bus service that connects major activity centers. It focuses on serving a localized geographic area with a high frequency of service and a simple route structure. Vehicles are similar in size to a 40-foot bus and are low-floor with multiple entry/exit doors to facilitate boardings. Rapid bus circulators can carry approximately 80 passengers. An example of this successful type of bus service can be found on the 16th Street mall in Denver, Colorado.

Modern Streetcar
Modern StreetcarModern Streetcar is a new technology that has been introduced in Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington. It is an electric railway, operating at street level, typically in mixed traffic. It shares a lane, on tracks, with other vehicles and operates safely in high traffic and/or high pedestrian areas to link neighborhoods with activity centers. In Tucson, the modern streetcar would work in conjunction with Old Pueblo Trolley (restored historic vehicles) but it is a separate system with a distinct, modern technology. Modern streetcars are low-floor, air-conditioned vehicles with wide doors (designed for rapid on and off boarding) that can carry approximately 150 passengers per vehicle. To view a video clip of a Modern Streetcar in operation, please visit the project web site,

3) How much will the Modern Streetcar cost?

The $87.8 million price tag includes the tracks, poles, overhead wires, vehicles, transit stops, maintenance facility and construction. This will cover approximately four miles of double track along an alignment within the central Tucson area.

4) What are the costs for both the Modern Streetcar and the Rapid Bus Circulator?

The Modern Streetcar alternative is estimated to cost $87.8 million to construct. The Rapid Bus Circulator is estimated to cost $28.4 million to construct. Overall, the rapid bus circulator alternative has a lower capital cost than modern streetcar. This difference is primarily related to the track and power infrastructure required to construct the fixed-guideway transit system used in the modern streetcar alternative. Much of the capital cost associated with the rapid bus circulator is associated with the purchase of enough custom bus vehicles to accommodate the same number of passengers as the modern streetcar (modern streetcar has almost double the capacity of rapid bus circulator). Operation and maintenance (O&M) costs are the amount of dollars needed to operate and maintain the transit alternative, including labor, maintenance, and security. Over a 20-year period, the O&M costs for the Modern Streetcar are forecast to be lower than the rapid bus circulator with the same alignment. This is primarily due to the shorter life span of the rapid bus circulator fleet (approximately 12 years). Please refer to the Tier 2 Report for more detail on the cost comparison between the Rapid Bus Circulator and Modern Streetcar.

5) How will the Modern Streetcar project be funded?

Cost to construct the project will be funded through a combination of federal and local funding sources. Federal funding requires obtaining Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) funds to match 50% of local expenditures up to $75 million. The City of Tucson will fund the remaining 50% via the proposed Regional Transportation Authority plan (RTA) half-cent sales tax approved in May 2006.

6) Who was involved in this study?

Transit On the Move!A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and a Community Liaison Group (CLG) were established at the beginning of the study. The TAC is made up of staff and technical experts from the City of Tucson, Pima County, Pima Association of Governments, the University of Arizona, the Tucson Police Department and Tucson Fire Department, Sun Tran, Cat Tran, TICET, Old Pueblo Trolley, and the Tucson Convention Center. The CLG is made up of representatives from the neighborhoods within and adjacent to the study area, businesses, schools, and interested groups such as the Tucson/Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Commission on Disability Issues. Both the TAC and the CLG met regularly throughout the study to provide guidance and advice on the advancement of the alternatives for evaluation. There was also extensive public outreach to solicit input from other interested parties. In all, more than 90 meetings were held, including open houses, workshops and speakers’ bureaus, to establish the locally preferred alternative and its route. A complete list of all CLG members and meeting minutes is available on the project web site,

7) What is the final, approved route? Who chose it, and why?

Several alternative routes were initially developed and evaluated. Two routes were then selected for further evaluation based on an initial comparison and input from the community, and the final route was unanimously approved by the study’s CLG, TAC, and Tucson’s Mayor and Council. Detailed information on the criteria and the alternatives can be found in the Tier 2 Detailed Evaluation Report at the website. The website also provides a map that shows each of the proposed routes. The selected alignment, called the Downtown / University Boulevard Route, best supports the existing land use plan opportunities within a half-mile of the route. Based on the analysis of the demographics located within a half-mile of the proposed transit stops, the selected route serves a larger total population, minority population, and low-income population as well as more zero-car households. The second alternative being evaluated (using 6th Street) served a slightly higher total employment number.

8) Why does the Rapid Bus Circulator seem to cost less than the Modern Streetcar?

The Rapid Bus Circulator costs less initially, but over time it will actually cost more than the Modern Streetcar because its Operation & Maintenance costs are higher. The buses wear out faster, carry fewer people, and cost more to maintain than the Modern Streetcar. Please refer to the Tier 2 Report for more detail on the cost comparison between the Rapid Bus Circulator and Modern Streetcar.

9) Is the Modern Streetcar accessible to people with wheelchairs and other mobility equipment?

Modern Streetcar AccessYes, Modern Streetcars are ADA-compliant. Their low floor access allows passengers to enter or exit through wide doors at the same height as the transit stop platform, providing easy access for those with mobility difficulties as well as families with small children and strollers. Its exceptionally smooth operation enables wheelchairs with no need for tie-downs. As this project moves forward, project personnel will be continue to consult those with special needs to ensure the streetcars and routes are designed appropriately.

10) Who will ride the streetcar?

Who will ride the streetcar?Approximately 10 percent of the Tucson metropolitan area population lives and/or works within walking distance of the Modern Streetcar. The Modern Streetcar is expected to carry 4,200 passengers per day, including residents, University and Downtown-area employees, tourists and students. In addition, the Modern Streetcar will provide service to those people coming Downtown for special events, sporting events, entertainment and other activities. The Streetcar system will be fully integrated with Sun Tran and will reduce 259 bus trips per day from the Downtown area.

11) How were the ridership numbers calculated?

An On Board Survey was conducted as part of the Alternatives Analysis in October 2005. The survey polled current transit riders in Tucson about their ridership behavior and preferences. Questions about the trip purpose, travel time period, mode of access and socio-economic indicators were designed to obtain data to be used to determine passenger’s riding habits, patterns and linkages between the university campus and the community. More than 5,000 valid surveys were returned, and the results were entered into the Pima Association of Government’s (PAG) Travel Forecasting Model to project ridership on the Modern Streetcar.

12) When will the Modern Streetcar operate?

The Modern Streetcar will operate 20 hours per day, seven days a week, at 10-minute intervals during the peak demand periods. This convenient schedule means passengers won’t have to worry about getting stranded at night or on weekends without a ride home. Frequent service also means Downtown and University area workers can use the Modern Streetcar to run errands or meet a friend for lunch along the route and return to work within the lunch hour.

13) Where will people park?

Downtown has more than 14,000 parking spaces. The University of Arizona has 50,000 students, faculty and staff who compete for approximately 13,000 parking spaces, and the UA campus plan calls for a reduction in on-campus parking as the University population continues to grow. Obviously, there isn’t enough parking in these areas. The Modern Streetcar will help alleviate parking shortages by connecting multiple, secure parking facilities, many of which are empty when there are events at other points along the route. For example, riders can park at the Tucson Convention Center and take the Modern Streetcar to a UA athletic event, or park near the UA in the evening and ride Downtown for dinner and a theatre performance. (The University has said that it will allow parking on campus during off-peak hours.) The Modern Streetcar will be used at different times of the day and night by workers, students, tourists and entertainment patrons, thereby spreading out the demand for parking.

14) What happens if one of the streetcars break down or there is an accident on the tracks?

This system is being designed as a double-track system. Crossovers will be designed in the system to allow trains to pass in the event of a vehicle breakdown or traffic accident.

15) What about when it floods?

One of the factors that led to the selection of the final route was the fact that its streets have good drainage and are not prone to flooding.

16) Can bikes use the streetcar?

Modern StreetcarYes. The Modern Streetcar’s interior layout will be designed to allow bicycles to be brought on board using the wide passenger doors that are level with the station platforms. In addition, vehicles will also accommodate strollers and wheelchairs.

17) In an emergency situation, the Tucson Fire Department may need to raise ladders along the Modern Streetcar alignment. How will the fire department deal with the overhead lines and poles?

All fire vehicles are equipped with the necessary access to Streetcar substations where fire personnel can shut off the power at those substations in the vicinity of the emergency. Attempts will be made not to interfere with the overhead wires, however in the event they are damaged they can be easily repaired.

Because the Tucson area is susceptible to frequent power outages from summer monsoons, emergency back-ups will be provided to move streetcar vehicles out of intersections or away from approaching emergency equipment in the event of a power failure. During design of the system a highly reliable traction power system with multiple levels of redundancy would be planned.

In addition to the planned redundant power supply, in the event of a widespread power outage the Modern Streetcar vehicles are equipped with a back-up battery power supply that will allow the vehicles to travel approximately 100 feet on their own power.

18) How will the system operate when there are street closures for special events, such as the Fourth Avenue Street Fair?

The system will continue to run according to its normal route and schedule, except in areas that are temporarily closed. As the design progresses, optional turnouts may be designed to accommodate special event street closures. This will enable the streetcar to maintain service in the rest of the system during these brief special events.

19) How will the Modern Streetcar work with Old Pueblo Trolley?

The Modern Streetcar is a separate system with a distinct, modern technology. Old Pueblo Trolley can use the streetcar tracks and take advantage of the opportunity to expand its system once the new route is built.

20) Isn’t this using old technology to address new problems?

No, this is a modern application of a successful, proven technology. Rail technology is constantly being updated and improved, and it is used successfully in many urban environments across the United States and in Europe where there isn’t enough room to widen streets.

21) What is the University of Arizona contributing to this?

The University of Arizona provided partial funding for the Phase I Study costs, and it will help pay for landscaping, pedestrian amenities, right-of-way acquisition, and other improvements along 2nd Street.

22) What is Transit Oriented Development?

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a growing trend in urban planning that focuses on the creation of compact, walkable communities centered around high quality transit systems. The following goals were established for the Alternatives Analysis using TOD principles:

Connect major activity centers
Create economic development
Support population and employment growth
Improve transit service
Mitigate parking constraints

23) How will Transit Oriented Development affect the historic homes along the route?

It will not. Transit Oriented Development can easily be coordinated with and integrated into the historic neighborhoods. Sam Hughes Place, the new development at the southeast corner of Campbell Avenue and 6th Street, is a good example.

24) What effect will the Modern Streetcar have on economic development?

Transit-oriented development has proven to be very profitable for the private sector as well as local governments with increased tax revenue. In Portland, for example, over $1.4 billion in new development has been invested adjacent to the modern streetcar line. According to the investors, the streetcar was the most significant factor in the investment decision. The initial public investment was $60 million in a 2 1/2 mile line through the Pearl District – that lead to $1.4 billion in private reinvestment in four tax years.

25) How does the Modern Streetcar affect land use and land use planning?

Across the nation, more and more people are choosing to live closer to urban centers so they can reduce their commuting costs and spend less time driving between home and work. In the Tucson region, the Modern Streetcar will entice people to live more centrally, which will promote infill development and help curb urban sprawl. Thousands of housing units are being developed and planned for the areas in and around Downtown. By living closer to their work, these residents won’t be commuting on I-10, Oracle Road, Broadway, I-19, or other major arterials.

The use of a Modern Streetcar can lead to a reduction in urban sprawl because transit systems help serve as a catalyst for land use change. Fixed transit systems linked with good land use policy can: reduce demand for driving by creating more compact, efficient forms of development that are pedestrian-friendly. Such systems also lead to the development of exciting urban environments where services are located closer together.

26) Where is the supporting data for the study?

All of the supporting documentation for the Major Transit Investment Study, including reports, meeting minutes, presentations and videos, is available on the project web site,

27) What are the next steps?

Now that Phase I has been completed, Phase II has begun and will encompass development of a Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement as well as a Preliminary Engineering Design.