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By 9 p.m., not only are most kids in bed — so are most UTA buses and trains

Published June 12, 2017 3:28 pm

Late service • Agency has goal to extend operations in early evenings and nights.
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Every night by 9 p.m., 70 percent of the Utah Transit Authority's bus and train routes have already ceased service and are tucked into bed for the night. In fact, one of every six routes — 17 percent — stop as early as 6 p.m.

UTA officials said Friday they know that is a problem for many people who work late or want to attend evening events, and listed it among several top challenges they hope to address in coming years.

"One of the things we hear all the time is we need service later," UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said during an annual report to the Utah Transportation Commission.

He showed maps of UTA route coverage of the Wasatch Front at different times of the day. One showed services that operated through 6 p.m. "It's a pretty good network. It covers all our service area where the population exists," he said.

Another map showed only 21 percent of routes operate after 10 p.m., and only along major routes — with few reaching into neighborhoods. After midnight, only 5 percent of the system operates, and it all shuts down by 1 a.m.

"People say we need later service. That's a real thing," Benson said.

But resources to expand service are a problem. The agency currently is spending more on debt service than bus service because of borrowing that accelerated construction of TRAX and FrontRunner rail systems. Benson said he hopes that early repayment and refinancing may help lower those payments.

Also, Benson has said UTA cannot afford all the TRAX extensions, bus rapid transit lines and new streetcars now on long-range plans because they assumed the area would be charging a penny per $1 sales tax for transit by now. It charges far less — just 69 cents in Salt Lake County, for example.

Raising it to a full penny per dollar would require a 45 percent sales tax boost.

And UTA is trying to figure out how to handle some expensive projects needed fairly quickly — including how to pay for a $68.5 million extension of its airport TRAX line as part of rebuilding Salt Lake City International Airport. UTA has identified potential sources to cover about $10 million of that amount.

"It's probably going to take partners besides UTA and Salt Lake City to figure it out because it's a big expense," Benson told the commission.

Still, "We are committed to a first-class connection at the airport as the gateway to the community, as is Salt Lake City. We're working very closely with them to find a way to fund that."

He said the agency is also working to figure how changing demographics today will change the future of transportation.

For example, he said 59 percent of all UTA riders are between the ages of 18 and 35, in part because the millennial generation drives less and uses transit more — which could increase future demands.

With that, he said the number of UTA riders who have driver licenses is dwindling, down from 85 percent in 2011 to 71 percent now.

Also, he said UTA service is becoming more important to low-income people. He said 54 percent of riders now have no travel choice other than UTA, up from 40 percent in 2011. Also, 62 percent of UTA riders earn less than $50,000 a year.

"So we have an important role to play to help with the economic vitality and social mobility of lower-income people. People who use transit often avoid having a second car or having a car altogether in the household, and that's a big impact," he said.






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