Sabino Canyon Shuttle

Regional Partnering Center

A public-private collaboration working to provide a sustainable shuttle service
for Southern Arizona’s most popular natural wonder.

News Announcement - Mar. 12, 2018

Contact: Sheila Storm, (520) 495-1451 or (520) 405-1181

RPC selected as operator of Sabino Canyon shuttle service;
service to be powered by $2.5 million in startup funds from TEP

Tucson, Ariz. – The nonprofit Regional Partnering Center (RPC) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service will award the group a five-year special use permit to operate a sustainable electric shuttle system in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

The RPC’s operation of the shuttle system will be in partnership Tucson Electric Power, which is contributing $1.5 million in startup costs as well as a $1 million interest-free, 10-year loan funded from its corporate resources, not customers’ rates.

In a letter to the RPC, Coronado National Forest Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry said that of the two proposals received by the Jan. 26 deadline that the RPC submitted a “stronger application” that was “superior in several elements of the proposed operating plan.” Dewberry cited the RPC proposal’s strong vehicle maintenance plan, driver training program and financial business plan and its aggressive and seamless implementation plan.

The RPC will be issued a five-year permit that will allow it to operate zero-emission electric shuttles to carry passengers safely, quietly and efficiently through the canyon, satisfying the Forest Service’s environmental requirements. 

“The Regional Partnering Center is looking forward to launching this environmentally friendly service with our project partner, Tucson Electric Power,” said Farhad Moghimi, Executive Officer of the RPC Board of Directors. “TEP is a strong community supporter, and its commitment to this project is a reflection of the company’s interest in our region’s long-term sustainability and the preservation of one of our region’s most treasured assets.”

The RPC will introduce its shuttle service in phases beginning in July 2018. The service will use diesel and gas-powered vehicles until a full fleet of electric vehicles can be manufactured, delivered and put into operation by July 2019.

In late November, U.S. Forest Service officials issued a prospectus and invited interested parties to submit competitive proposals for operating a canyon shuttle service under a five-year special use permit. The permit issued to the current shuttle service provider expires on June 30, 2018. 

TEP sought a private-public partnership with RPC to promote a public service-oriented project that includes electric vehicles, said David Hutchens, TEP’s President and CEO.

“We are excited about collaborating with the RPC and its partners to provide the community with a clean, sustainable electric shuttle system that preserves the environment, raises awareness of the benefits of EVs and improves the experience of those visiting this national treasure,” Hutchens said.

Manufactured by Trams International of Bell Gardens, Calif., the open-air 62-passenger shuttles would be equipped with an electronic fare payment system, an audio narration system and a multi-language interpretation system accessed through the use of audio jacks and headsets. 

The RPC’s proposal calls for the tram service to be operated by Total Transit Enterprises (Total Transit), the current transportation contractor that operates the Regional Transportation Authority’s Sun Shuttle public transit system in the region.

Other collaborators in RPC’s proposal include Friends of Sabino Canyon, Public Lands Interpretative Association, the Coalition of Sonoran Desert Protection and the University of Arizona College of Science.

RPC proposes using the Sabino Canyon trams to provide 32 round trips per day along a roughly 6-mile route through Sabino and Bear Canyons, which attract about 1 million visitors annually.

The Regional Partnering Center (RPC) advances policies, practices and solutions to regional planning, environmental and energy challenges in Pima County through research and educational outreach with the goal of developing programs for their solution or management. RPC is a 501(c)(3) managed by Pima Association of Governments, the region’s metropolitan planning organization.

RPC logo


Pima Association of Governments

Regional Transportation Authority

Total Transit Enterprises

Trams International

Friends of Sabino Canyon

Public Lands Interpretative Association

Coalition of Sonoran Desert Protection

University of Arizona College of Science

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