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It's high: an extra $49 million. That would represent a 27 percent increase in the current $179 million annual operations budget and well out of UTA's price range, Christopher Chestnut, UTA manager of service planning, told the UTA board's Planning and Development Committee on Wednesday.
Currently, service on 70 percent of UTA bus and train routes ends before 9 p.m. Only 5 percent of routes extend between midnight and 1 a.m., when all service stops. Rider groups contend that makes it difficult for people who work or socialize late to use the UTA system.
UTA looked at a dream scenario where 22 percent of routes would offer 24-hour-a-day service, with others extending service into the late evening.
While that would cost an extra $49 million, UTA estimates it still would increase ridership only from 45 million to 50 million boardings annually.
Chestnut said the extra late-night service would also increase wear and tear on equipment and raise costs, and likely increase noise complaints. It would complicate repairs to rail lines, which UTA now performs at night.
UTA did the estimate as part of quick research requested by the UTA board in November, when a group calling itself the Utah Transit Riders Union asked it to spend $2 million out of reserves to restore some late-night and weekend service that was cut during the recession.
Chestnut said UTA looked at two scenarios for spending such an extra $2 million, but found it would not provide much extra service or ridership.
One scenario for that extra $2 million adding some late service on Salt Lake City's west side, the Avenues, and in Weber and Utah Counties, plus more Sunday TRAX service to the Salt Lake City International Airport would increase overall ridership by a mere 0.2 percent, estimates said.
Another scenario would increase ridership by 0.45 percent by adding frequency to some core area late-night routes in Salt Lake, Utah and Weber counties, and by expanding Sunday service on the green line TRAX.
George Chapman, a Utah Transit Riders Union board member who spoke only for himself, was at the meeting and said UTA should still spend the $2 million as a first step toward improving late service.
"If they do that, it helps a lot of people downtown because of the parking situation," that is expensive and difficult. "This is what UTA should do."
The UTA committee took no action on the report. But its chairman, Charles Henderson, said it shows that UTA takes seriously the comments and proposals that it receives.