Tucson’s Sun Tran makes it easy to give riders real-time information

For Steve Spade, general manager of Sun Tran, Sun Van and Sun Link in Tucson, Arizona, transit service is about creating “raving fans.” Drawn from “Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service,” a book by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, this theory posits that all businesses should be focused on understanding customer expectations. Once those expectations are understood, Spade said, then the transit agency’s goal should be to exceed them.

“It is not just about meeting passenger expectations — we need to truly understand them so we can figure out how to go beyond their expectations,” he said. “When we do that, we are able to turn our riders into ‘raving fans.’”

Spade’s message to each Sun Tran employee is that every customer interaction is an opportunity to create a raving fan of the system — which, along with the paratransit service Sun Van and streetcar Sun Link, transports around 50,000 people per day to locations in and around Tucson. Each interaction, therefore, is a chance to exceed a customer’s expectations for service.

That philosophy, Spade said, guides Sun Tran’s technology planning. Whether that means generating accurate schedules, planning routes that coincide with the community’s needs, or providing clear public information through apps or planners — it is all aimed at providing the best possible customer experience for riders in Tucson. Focusing on that experience is critical, Spade said, to “future-proofing” the agency as new technology rolls out.

Real-time public information elevates the rider experience and has become increasingly vital in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with its longtime provider and integrator Trapeze Group, Sun Tran recently deployed the latest passenger information tools (INFO-WEB and INFO-APP) for its riders during the coronavirus crisis.

“Sun Tran has used G2 version of the INFO Web interface for a number of years, but we recently worked with Trapeze to develop the new G3 version and app,” Spade said. “We have held weekly conference calls with Trapeze’s development team for over six months, working out the details and making it as customized for our system as possible.”


The INFO mobile app allows agencies to engage passengers with superior trip planning capabilities on their iOS and Android devices. The modern interface is easy-to-use, helping riders quickly find real-time transit information, including vehicle capacity. This feature has become even more important during COVID-19, as riders can see how full a vehicle is before they board; and if they prefer a vehicle with fewer passengers because of social distancing, they can wait and board the next one. The INFO Web version of the product allows passengers to access scheduled and real-time transit information and notifications online.

“It was a joy to work with Sun Tran on this project,” said Gary Lo, product director of traveler experience for Trapeze. “It was one of the most collaborative implementations I’ve worked on, and their team was agile, adaptable, and skilled.”

“As a result of our work with Trapeze, we have a well-functioning and beautiful web application that allows our riders to track their vehicles,” Spade added. “And during COVID-19, riders do not want to board a jammed-full bus.”

Sun Tran and Trapeze determined that any bus running at less than 30% capacity complies with government-directed social distancing rules. Spade said that COVID-19 has shown agencies the importance of having this information readily available to riders. It creates a safer transit experience, impacting ridership and quality of service.

Pat Richter, director of marketing for Sun Tran, launched a public information campaign to help riders understand the new tools available to them, especially when COVID-19 made vehicle capacity a paramount issue. The agency used press releases, social media posts, and onboard posters to get the word out about the INFO relaunch and the new app. Online educational videos guide riders through using INFO’s trip planner, and the social media campaign has focused on how to take advantage of the vehicle capacity notification.

“We have made it clear to riders that they should check their bus capacity and, if they are uncomfortable with it being too full, they should find another trip which works better for them,” Richter said. “It is really great for our customers to have an expanded list of options, and to have tools which allow them some return to normalcy.”

Sun Tran gained a lot of value from transit technology integration, as the INFO tool is integrated with their existing Trapeze software solutions throughout the agency — including scheduling and planning, enterprise asset management, intelligent transportation systems, and more. Spade said the synchronicity between automatic passenger counting systems, ridership data analysis, and scheduling systems proved invaluable when integrating data into the INFO customer service platform. Integration allows Sun Tran to best meet customer needs, Spade said, as opposed to disparate systems generating data for Sun Tran to manually correlate.

“The biggest obstacle to ridership growth is inconvenience, so we must eliminate every barrier that makes transit inconvenient,” Spade said. “Real-time information and the comfort level of knowing a bus is coming — and how full it is — is a huge step toward that. From our perspective, system integration allows us to deliver the best possible public service and customer experience.”

The Sun Tran bus system, Sun Link streetcar and Sun Van paratransit system are the public transportation providers in Tucson, Arizona. 

Visit www.trapezegroup.com for more information.