Shuttles in Sabino Canyon could be quieter and cleaner. But that could shut out the company that's run the current system for more than 30 years.
A partnership that includes Tucson Electric is working towards electric shuttles for the canyon tours.
Current shuttles run on diesel engines. Drivers use loudspeakers to point out the natural features as visitors ride through the canyon.
Now electric shuttles could take over through a partnership of Tucson Electric, the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono Oodham Nations and the Regional Transportation Authority.
The Regional Partnering Center (RPC) has proposed operating an electric shuttle in Sabino Canyon with the help of a $2.5 million in startup funding from Tucson Electric Power (TEP).
A proposal submitted by RNC says the company would design, purchase and operate five state-of-the-art electric shuttles to carry visitors through the popular recreation area.
According to a media release from the Pima Association of Governments:
The zero-emission shuttles would move passengers safely, quietly and efficiently through the canyon, satisfying environmental requirements in the U.S. Forest Service’s request for proposals to upgrade shuttle service. The use of electric vehicles would be made possible by a $1.5 million contribution and a $1 million interest-free loan from TEP’s corporate resources, not customers’ rates.
The proposal would also offer to link the shuttle to new urban transit routes that will expand access to Sabino Canyon.
Canyon visitors like Susan Hand like the possibility of clean, quiet trams.
"I have run and walked this canyon for many years and every time when we go up and smell the diesel smoke it's really, it's so contrary to the whole natural atmosphere that you want to find here."
Tucson Electric's putting up $2.5 million in contributions and loans but says that does not come from rate-payers.
The RTA sees the proposal as a way to promote electric vehicles.
Jim DeGrood of RTA says, “We, here in the region are committed to sustainability. Certainly that's something that the Forest Service looks at. We have a sustainable recreation plan and a lot of what we're proposing is consistent with that plan."
The small company that's operated the shuttles for more than 30 years is suing the Forest Service. It says the Forest Service requirement for a five year agreement is too short for a small company to get financing that will let it compete for the shuttle concession.
We should know what will roll down the road of Sabino this summer.