In the early morning of each weekday, individuals in suits with briefcases in tow walk from the entrance of Riverfront Park in Oro Valley and other Northwest locations to catch the Sun Express bus.

Sun Tran express routes offered Monday through Friday are for commuters who live in Oro Valley, Marana and Catalina and work in the hub of Tucson or in the industrial developments near Tucson International Airport.

Sharon Barron, an Oro Valley resident, has been riding the commuter route "since its inception," she said. Barron has worked as a secretary in the procurement department for the City of Tucson since 2006. Prior to the express bus, Barron drove to and from work every day. "It was a long and drawn-on drive," she said.

When Sun Express came to Oro Valley, a co-worker suggested Barron take it to work.

"At first when I thought about taking the bus, I was like 'I don't know about that,' I'd always heard horror stories about city buses, so I was worried," Barron said.

"But this is really nice."

Veterans Affairs Hospital volunteer Ken Sanders is a veteran of the transit system. Before it was accessible, he carpooled to downtown with his wife on her way to work. When his wife retired, Sanders found the bus to be the only alternative to driving.

"I think most people aren't aware of how usable the bus is," said Sanders, who catches the northernmost stop in Catalina. "I've known folks who had not ridden the bus before, but after trying it, now use it frequently. From basic commuting, it's a great alternative."

A popular pick-up and drop-off location for Oro Valley residents is Riverfront Park on Lambert Lane. That's where Margaret Fischer, who works for Tucson Water, catches the 107 express route every morning at 7:09 a.m.

The drive takes about 34 minutes, dropping its riders off in the heart of Tucson at 7:43 a.m., giving them time to spare for an 8 a.m. workday. The return route picks up riders at around 5:10 p.m., getting them home before 6 p.m.

Sun Tran also offers a "guaranteed ride home," for its registered commuters. If a passenger has to stay late at work and misses the 5 p.m. bus, they can call a cab and Sun Tran will pick up the tab.

In fiscal year 2010, 21,936 passenger trips were provided on Express Route 104, moving Marana residents to downtown. There were 19,584 trips on Express Route 107 – Oro Valley to downtown. And 17,560 trips were taken on Express Route 203 – Oro Valley to Aero Park.

"It's nice because you can read and relax and before you know it, you're at work," said Fischer. Passengers on the bus in the early morning recline in the upholstered seats, read, listen to music, and chat with their neighbors.

Fischer calls the commuter bus route a "Godsend" to avoid the hassle of driving, the price of gas and parking, and the wear and tear on a car. "Plus," Fischer said, "the people are so nice."

Leisurely commutes and a friendly schedule are not the only benefits riders enjoy. They agree it is a more economical and green way to go.

Although the express fare is $1.50 one-way, employees of city agencies can purchase a month pass for $42, then be reimbursed half by the city.

"Cost savings is definitely one of the biggest benefits," said Barron. "And it's good for the environment."

Sun Tran drivers, mechanics strike

Sun Tran drivers and mechanics, members of the Teamsters Local 104, went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning over a contract disagreement with Sun Tran management.

The work stoppage is affecting normal transit operation.

Limited Sun Tran services are being offered during the strike, including Sun Van and Sun Shuttle. Express routes from the Northwest are not running. To obtain current information, riders should call Sun Tran's customer information center at 792-9222 between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

NW express routes offered:

102X Northwest-UA Express

103X Northwest-Downtown Express

104X Marana-Downtown Express

107X Oro Valley-Downtown Express

202X Northwest-Aero Park Express

203X Oro Valley-Aero Park Express

312X Oro Valley-Tohono Express

About Sun Tran

Sun Tran began in 1905 as the Tucson Rapid Transit Company, carrying passengers in horse-drawn streetcars. In 1906, an electric streetcar system began, later being replaced by buses in the 1920s.

In 1969, the City of Tucson purchased TRT and renamed it Sun Tran. Today the entire bus fleet uses either compressed natural gas or biodiesel fuels. More than 21 million riders are serviced by Sun Tran a year.

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