In a July 19 editorial ("More fair fares," Opinion), The Salt Lake Tribune expressed concern about the recommendations of a study on distance-base fares being considered by the Utah Transit Authority.
Based on its review of the study, The Tribune asserts a distance-based fare system could hurt ridership and adversely affect major partners like the University of Utah and the LDS Church.
UTA appreciates the expressions of concern; however, it's premature to jump to such a conclusion. The study reviewed by the newspaper is only one of many models UTA is reviewing as the agency studies distance-based fare and its potential benefits.
No decisions have been at this time, and no proposals or plans have been developed.
UTA needs to finish studying the models and begin to develop distance-based fare scenarios that can be vetted with our partners and the public. Before any decisions will be made, there will be multiple opportunities for the public to provide input and help shape the future of UTA's fare programs.
Early studies suggest a distance-based fares system has great potential to provide greater equity for our riders. Customers would pay for what they actually use, like they do with fuel or utilities. Today, a rider pays a $2.35 local fare whether he or she travels two blocks or 20 miles.
We also believe a distance-based fare system has the potential to increase ridership. Charging riders for distance traveled would likely incentivize riders to take more short trips than they do today, while not necessarily discouraging longer trips if priced appropriately.
Nor does a distanced-based fare necessarily mean the end of discounts. UTA's electronic fare system could be programmed to provide appropriate discounts or rewards for seniors, low-income, and frequent riders.
Although the traditional monthly pass may not be part of a distance-based fare system, it would likely be replaced by a superior, more flexible fare product.
UTA also has no plans to eliminate our partnership programs with educational and corporate institutions. These partnerships are mutually beneficial, and we expect them to continue into the foreseeable future. They are an important part of our success. Thousands of students and employees of these partners benefit daily from riding transit, enjoying financial savings and more efficient use of their commuting time. The community benefits from better air quality and reduced traffic congestion.
There is no reason to believe that moving to a new fare structure would necessarily increase personal costs for students or employees of these partners. The direct cost to a student or employee is determined by each partner, not by UTA.
Many choose to subsidize the cost of the passes, providing them to employees or students for no out-of-pocket expense or for a nominal amount. UTA will continue to encourage this practice as we work to enhance our relationship with our partners.
With today's technology, we have an opportunity to develop a fare system that will provide greater options and possibilities for all of our riders. The next few months will be spent developing potential fare concepts that we will share with our riders and the general public at the earliest opportunity. UTA encourages everyone to join us in developing a new and better fare system that will provide greater equity and opportunity for all riders.
Michael Allegra is UTA's general manager.