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The Utah Transit Authority has talked for years about switching to a fare system based on distance traveled — and now is experimenting with it along three bus routes near Brigham Young University.

"Until now, we have been charging the same fare whether you went two blocks or 20 miles," said Hugh Johnson, UTA regional general manager in Utah County.

Now, UTA is offering people a chance to buy a special electronic FAREPAY card that will allow them to pay 50 cents a mile up to a maximum of $2.50 (the current full cash fare). Use is allowed on routes 830, 832 and 835 near BYU.

"Most BYU students live within a mile of campus," Johnson said. He adds it may not make financial sense for them to pay full fare to make that trip or even to buy student UTA passes, but they may be attracted by lower distance-based fares.

"So BYU is the ideal area to test short-trip fares," he said.

Johnson said the current test is designed to see if distance-based fares indeed can coax people to ride buses more for short trips. "We hope to increase ridership. That is what this is all about."

Johnson said UTA is considering many options for future distance-based fares beyond the current test model — so eventual, future systems may look much different. UTA has begun a study looking at all its fares and passes and how they may be changed.

Johnson said the new test around BYU has just begun, and UTA has been on the BYU campus selling and promoting the test passes. The test is scheduled to last a year.

Distance for the fare is calculated "as the crow flies" by GPS systems in the current test. Trips have a one-mile minimum, and round up to the next mile.

People using the test FAREPAY cards are given no transfer credit to other bus or train routes.