The Utah Transit Authority's Draper TRAX extension had a good first week not only reaching but exceeding its projected ridership. That is especially good news because UTA ridership has been stagnant over the past year, despite adding $1.2 billion worth of other new rail projects in that time.
The Draper extension had 2,428 average daily boardings in its first week between Aug. 19 to 24, said UTA spokesman Remi Barron.
That was 178 more daily than the 2,250 boardings it was projected to have by 2015, Barron said. The 3.8-mile extension to the blue line opened two years earlier than originally planned and cost $147 million about $50 million under the original projection.
Barron said UTA is not exactly sure why ridership is higher than projected, but "there just seems to be a lot of buzz in the community and people are excited about it." He added that "there has been a little more advertising for this line than some of the past openings."
Also, the opening came as the University of Utah was preparing to begin fall classes. "There are a lot of university students in the area," and the university offers free passes to its students, Barron said. "We may have had a lot of students take the line to check out classes and buy books."
Meanwhile, ridership data given to the UTA board this week said that through the end of June, ridership this year was down 0.25 percent compared to the same period in 2012 despite the addition during that time of the Salt Lake City to Provo FrontRunner commuter rail line, and a TRAX extension to Salt Lake City International Airport.
It also comes in a period when UTA raised its fares, which are now among the highest in the nation, although UTA likes to say they are equivalent to other Western transit agencies most similar to it.
UTA also cut or tweaked much of its bus service to help afford operating the new rail lines. For example, UTA earlier said that it found about 30 percent of people with passes who rode now-eliminated express buses between Utah County and Salt Lake City never made the switch to the FrontRunner line that replaced them. Many riders said overall trips took more time and were less convenient.
UTA officials like to say that 2012 was a record year for ridership. But it had projected ridership would increase this year with the addition of the new lines, and so far it has not.
While the Draper line is exceeding expectations, some other lines such as extensions to South Jordan and West Valley City attracted only half to 69 percent of projected riders when they opened. UTA said at the time that was because projections were for 2015, four years after they opened in 2011, and some expected development in those areas had not yet occurred.
The new Draper TRAX is the last piece of UTA's "Frontlines 2015" projects, which also included the Salt Lake City to Provo FrontRunner and TRAX extensions to the airport, West Valley City and South Jordan.
Voters in 2006 approved issuing bonds and raising sales tax to accelerate the projects to be completed in 2015 instead of the once-planned 2030. They were actually finished in 2013, and for $300 million less overall than once planned.
No UTA service on Labor Day
P Labor Day is one of the holidays when UTA offers no service. "The bulk of the population is not commuting to work, and schools are closed," UTA spokesman Remi Barron said. "Service is not provided this Labor Day because of the very small number of riders projected to use our system."