In the late 1970s, the Utah Transit Authority decided to raise its kids fare from a dime to a quarter. As a middle-school student who rode the bus to and from school, I showed up to various UTA public meetings to voice my opposition.
The fare increase was pricing kids out of the market. During this time, I met Sam Taylor, the Democratic state representative from South Salt Lake who tirelessly fought to make UTA accountable and a true mass-transit system.
Sam would be appalled at the direction UTA has taken our system, and even more concerned about its veiled request to the House Transportation Interim Committee for 66 percent more in sales tax funding. In 1999, voters approved a sales tax increase that would ultimately build the first light rail line that started UTA on the path of running railroads throughout the Wasatch Front while decimating the true heart of the transit system the bus lines.
With an excellent grid system in Salt Lake County, UTA has managed to create an unworkable mesh of bus-to-train connections while ignoring the obvious straight line. It used to be that one could take a cross-valley bus or go from one end of the valley to the other without ever getting off.
Now, in order to do that, you must transfer, often more than once. Part of the sales package in 1999 that UTA pitched was that night and weekend bus service would be expanded. A true and short-lived expansion of that service didn't happen until 2007, when the entire bus system was overhauled, with new routing that pushed waiting and transfer times even higher. Adding to this insult was a series of fare increases tied to the price of diesel fuel.
Today we have a system that is overpriced and inconvenient to use. It caters to the 9-to-5 commuter while ignoring the service needs of the most vulnerable: the working poor, the elderly and the disabled. Struggling families, students and others need a reliable, fast and inexpensive system alternative.
UTA is so far out of touch with the needs of the population that moments after asking for a greater sales tax share they hopped on a plane to Switzerland to study cog railways that will presumably be ideal for running a railroad up Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.
Actions speak louder than words. If restoring bus service is the top priority for UTA executives, then they should study the current system by giving up their personal cars for a year and using the system that the rest of the population is forced to use, and not how the Swiss run trains up a mountain.
There is no doubt that more funding is needed to operate the transit system that citizens desire and deserve. However, there are doubts that the current management and board have the ability and desire to get that done. We need more bus routes, shorter frequencies and longer operating hours.
In business, offering more for less usually equates to more profit and there is no reason to believe that it won't work for UTA, which has taken criticism for expensive bonuses, and for good reason. It's time to hold UTA executives accountable for the dysfunctional system they have built. No more bonuses until a citizen can board a bus at the end of the swing shift and make it home in a reasonable time by paying an affordable fare.
Christopher Stout is a former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, nominee for state treasurer, and a member of the Salt Lake County Democratic Progressive Caucus.