RTA ends talks with Tucson over Sun Tran - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

RTA ends talks with Tucson over Sun Tran

Board, city differ over levels of financial support

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Posted: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:15 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The Regional Transportation Authority Board on Friday, Aug. 6 voted unanimously to discontinue talks with the City of Tucson over control of the Sun Tran bus system.

"There's culpability everywhere on all sides of the issue," Marana Mayor Ed Honea said during Friday's meeting. "Maybe a different negotiation could work."

The mayors of Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita, Tucson, the chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, representatives from the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui nations and an Arizona state transportation board representative make up the board. Mayor Bob Walkup of Tucson was not present for the vote.

RTA's board formally broke off negotiations over Sun Tran while the City of Tucson dealt with a strike of Sun Tran union employees, who have sought the transfer of Sun Tran responsibilities from Tucson to the RTA.

"I would hope cooler heads could prevail," said ADOT representative Steve Christy, who attended the meeting by telephone. "I'm hoping something can be salvaged."

"None of us are giving up on regional transit," Honea said. "We have to identify somewhere down the line a funding source."

Money has been a major barrier for the board to overcome, Honea said, because no one wants to propose a new tax to spread the obligation evenly throughout the region.

City officials have said Tucson's obligation to fund Sun Tran stands at $600,000 annually. That's considerably less than the $32 million annual obligation RTA officials say the city has to provide.

"The legislature anticipated that, with the public's approval of the one-half cent county-wide sales tax for transportation purposes, individual jurisdictions would be incentivized to cut-back their spending for such purposes and allow RTA funds to supplant their financial commitment," RTA officials wrote in response to Tucson's claim. "Under the city's interpretation of the statutes, a bait and switch will occur."

The RTA board and the City of Tucson have been involved in on-again, off-again discussions about a possible transfer of operations since late 2009. Those talks stalled in December, when the board could not find common ground over how to pay for an RTA-run bus system.

More recently, renewed discussions were affected by the standoff between Sun Tran's union workers and Tucson over pay demands and a two-year employment guarantee.

Union and Sun Tran officials on Monday reached an agreement that ended the strike.

Teamsters Local 104 Union officials representing the Sun Tran employees have said they support a transfer to the RTA, primarily because they don't think Tucson has the money to meet union demands.

Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath said after the meeting that RTA was pulled into the labor discussion, prompting the board to cut off talks.

"That's the direction we were heading," Hiremath said.

"I think the best for all of is to get out of the way and let Tucson and the union work it out," Honea said.

The mayor said he estimates it could be six months or more before the RTA resumes talks with Tucson for control of Sun Tran.

"Regional transit," Honea said, "is something we're going to deal with somewhere down the road."

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