In 2005 the Tucson, Arizona metropolitan area took a critical step to improving its transportation infrastructure, passing a ½ cent sales tax increase to cover some of the local derived capital costs of buses, light rail and street alignments over the next 20 years. In the past four years, substantial improvements have already been realized. Regional planners are now giving serious thought to having the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), the organization responsible for implementation of the above-mentioned initiative, take over the Tucson and possibly other local bus systems, in effect regionalizing the operations as well as the capital improvements for a major portion of the rolling stock in the region. A prior December 2009 workshop had brought leaders from other U.S. metropolitan areas of comparable size to Tucson to discuss their experiences in regionalizing transit services.
Barry Lawson, who played a role in convening citizen and technical committees to support the 2005 initiative, was recently invited to facilitate a follow-up meeting for further consideration of the current regional transit plan initiative. The meeting attendees included elected officials and technical personnel from the cities, counties and Native American tribes that comprise the RTA. They focused on identifying the challenging issues to be addressed before action can be taken. The session was only one step, but an important one, in determining the feasibility and attractiveness of a regional transit system for the RTA members. Much community discussion remains; yet it was a start to framing the initiative so as to address the advantages and constraints in such a transition. The mayors and other elected officials are concerned with the pros and cons of ceding ownership and control of local systems to a regional body, but also have serious municipal budget challenges that might be alleviated to some degree through implementation the proposed plan.