Park-n-ride dedicated; express bus users rising
Dave Perry/The Explorer, One of Sun Express' new commuter buses was shown off Monday, when the Regional Transportation Authority's $1.442 million park-and-ride facility was dedicated at Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Innovation Park Drive in Oro Valley.

A new, $1.442 million park-and-ride facility was dedicated in the chill Monday morning in Oro Valley’s Rancho Vistoso.

Officials from Sun Tran, the town of Oro Valley and the Regional Transportation Authority also celebrated newly established Sun Express bus routes linking Oro Valley to downtown Tucson, and Oro Valley to the Aero Park that includes major employer Raytheon.

Sun Express bus service began Feb. 16. “It takes time to catch on, and to work,” said RTA executive director Gary Hayes. “We’re already starting to see ridership.”

“It’s been more than we expected, the first two or three weeks,” said Marana Mayor Ed Honea, chairman of the RTA board, who made the drive to Rancho Vistoso early Monday.

As examples, 30 people rode one of the three buses to downtown Tucson on Feb. 19, and 28 caught a lift on one of the three buses to the Aero Park that day, according to Katrina Heineking, general manager of Sun Tran.

Beyond the express buses, a park-and-ride lot at Rancho Vistoso “will provide even more options for residents of Oro Valley to utilize transit,” Heineking said.

The lot, at Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Innovation Park Drive, has 102 parking spaces, to be used for car pools, van pools and transit users. Still to come are six bicycle lockers, expected in early May, and an artistic shelter along Rancho Vistoso Boulevard.

RTA money was used to build the Rancho Vistoso park and ride facility. It is managed by the town’s public works department, which has facilities across the street.

“It’s very exciting for beginning the connection of Oro Valley to the region” via mass transit, Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said. “Congratulations on this step in the RTA’s evolution to becoming the regional transportation system for Pima County.”

Express bus tickets are $1 to downtown and $2 to the Aero Park. The trips take about 50 minutes to downtown, and 90 minutes to the Aero Park. Raytheon, which encourages its employees to ride the bus, is “a real good supporter of transit,” said Aimee Ramsey, transit administrator for the Town of Oro Valley public works department.

Each 36-seat bus is equipped with folding armrests, reclining seats, bicycle racks, a ramp for accessibility, and spaces for two personal mobility devices.

“It’s a beautiful bus,” said Sun Tran driver Jay Trapp, who was preparing for the 7 a.m. Monday departure from Rancho Vistoso.

The new, 40,000-pound Sun Express buses run on a combination of biodiesel and ultra low-sulfur fuel. Trapp is pleased with the horsepower; “they do a pretty good job keeping up with traffic,” even on hills.

Operator ergonomics are state of the art. Compressed air is used to lower the bus to near sidewalk level, then to raise the chassis so the bus can roll.

 “We’ve been looking for, and are starting to achieve, seamless transportation” in Pima County, with the integration of express routes, bus routes and future “neighborhood circulators” in Marana and Oro Valley, Honea said.

A new, commonly accepted fare payment technology system, due for implementation in 2010, should make “public transportation much easier for all of us to use,” Honea said. Cards can be scanned with fares automatically deducted, throughout the RTA system. “If it’s easier to use, more people will use it,” Honea said.


Regional Transportation Authority funds were used to create the $1.442 million Rancho Vistoso park-and-ride. The project budget was:

Land acquisition, including appraisal: $712,000

Construction: $675,000

Design: $34,000

Art: $21,000

Riverfront Park bus pullouts:  $30,000.

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