RPC submits proposal to operate electric shuttle in Sabino Canyon; $2.5 million in startup funds to be provided by Tucson Electric Power

Contact: Sheila Storm, (520) 792-1093

Tucson, Ariz. – The Regional Partnering Center (RPC), a nonprofit group, has proposed operating an affordable, sustainable electric shuttle in Sabino Canyon made possible by $2.5 million in startup funding from Tucson Electric Power (TEP).

The RPC submitted a proposal backed by a collaborative public-private community partnership that would design, purchase and operate five state-of-the-art electric shuttles to carry visitors through the popular recreation area.

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.

“This clean, efficient and environmentally friendly shuttle would exemplify the mission of the RPC, which seeks to promote collaboration among regional partners in the public interest,” said RPC Board Treasurer and Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward Manuel.

Peter Yucupicio, RPC Board Vice Chair and Pascua Yaqui Tribe Vice Chairman, said, “The technology and innovation presented in the proposal supports our interest in protecting our natural environment and land, both regional and cultural assets that continue to define the beauty and attractiveness of our desert region.”

“We are very fortunate to have the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe leadership on our Board to guide our partnership in pursuing this opportunity to enhance the visitors’ experience and to preserve and cherish our natural and cultural resources,” said RPC Chairman and Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath.

The proposal also offers to link the shuttle to new urban transit routes that will expand access to the treasured natural resource.

In November, U.S. Forest Service officials invited interested parties to submit proposals in a competitive process to select a service provider that will be issued a five-year permit to operate canyon shuttle service. A special use permit issued to the private tour company currently operating shuttle service expires on June 30, 2018.

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

“This clean, quiet shuttle system will be a great way to showcase our community’s commitment to sustainability to the many residents and visitors who enjoy the natural beauty of Sabino Canyon,” 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 managed by Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and 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 partners named as 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.