RTA to restore funding to Tucson

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No one's forgotten the Sun Tran strike that plagued the city earlier this summer. But after weeks of failed talks, the Regional Transportation Authority and the city seemed headed in that direction again.

Until a surprise move by the RTA Thursday changed all that.

A couple weeks ago it seemed the RTA would cut the city's funding, but no longer.  "We're sensitive to the fact that the city has budget issues," said RTA Director Gary Hayes.  "We're sensitive to the fact that transit riders are concerned about bus fares or change in service. So we wanted to make sure we did our part."

Thursday the RTA board unanimously passed a motion to restore all of the $8.1 million in funding to the city.

A handful of Tucsonans who rely on Sun Tran buses the most turned out to pressure the RTA to hand over the money. It turns out it didn't take much pressure, suddenly, the RTA became the unlikely hero who may have helped prevent another bus strike.

"We have no idea how this is going to impact any potential strike," said Hayes.  "We're hoping that by taking this initiative the city can avoid fare increases or service cuts or other things they thought they'd have to do."

"The RTA put the money back today so we're putting the city on notice that they better not oppress bus riders because the riders are going to come at them."

Four hours after the RTA wrapped up their meeting, the mayor and council's transit task force started theirs. They began the meeting expecting to talk about higher bus fares, until they heard about the RTA's action. Instead they passed a motion to recommend to council to table a fare hike, for now.

Its good news for activist Brian Flagg.  "The budget of the city of Tucson should not be balanced on the backs of bus riders especially poor bus riders," said Flagg.

But riders aren't out of the woods yet.  Service cuts may still be on the table.

"If service cuts are kept out of the discussion there won't be a strike."

Still activists say they'll take Thursday's win, and take it one step at a time.

"We made that point today and we're going to continue to make it and the city will do justice like was done here today by the RTA board," said Flagg.

The Regional Transportation Authority says the $8.1 million must be used to pay for expansion of services.

The RTA and the city plan to meet to discuss what exactly expansion of services really means to both parties.