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UTA looks to future transit growth

Published July 13, 2011 1:18 pm

Commuting • Younger generations could up ridership, economist says.
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The Utah Transit Authority board tried Wednesday to peer into the future, and saw that transit could become more important to Utah as it becomes increasingly diverse with a middle class that will face greater financial pressure.

The board began an all-day planning retreat by listening to University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich discuss trends in new Census and economic data.

"We're never going back to 1950 in demographics, or 2007 in the economy," Perlich told the board.

In other words, Utah is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse than in 1950, when it was almost totally white. She said that most children born in the nation now are minorities, and new immigrants have cities such as West Valley City and Salt Lake City well on the way to becoming "majority-minority."

Also, she said the Great Recession that began in 2007 wiped out 10 years of job growth nationally, and most job recovery is occurring overseas rather than in the United States — so Utahns, along with most Americans, may be less affluent in the future. She noted that a third of mortgage holders now owe more on their homes than they are worth.

Perlich said that could make transit more important and lead to more ridership as younger generations may be forced to look for more affordable housing and transportation options.

She said people immigrating from other countries may also be more accepting of using public transit instead of cars. Also, she said the younger generation would prefer spending commuter time with their hands on computers on trains or buses, rather than holding on to a steering wheel in traffic.

"We are at the crossroads of a new era," Perlich said.

UTA general manager Michael Allegra showed charts that projected that UTA use could grow from 40 million rider trips annually now to 600 million in the next 30 years. "It's not just a wild dream," he said.

Allegra said if the UTA and developers encourage more "transit-oriented development," or building residences where people can walk to bus and train stops, it could fuel much of that growth in transit use. Land use plans adopted by regional planning agencies are pushing that idea more as a way to handle housing and transportation needs amid future growth.

Perlich encouraged UTA to reach out more to young people and ethnic groups as it plans its future to ensure that it meets their needs. Allegra said UTA is in a good position to help handle that, with plans for expanded TRAX, commuter rail, new streetcars, bus-rapid transit, express buses and traditional bus service.






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