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Alex Cragun says Utah Transit Authority board members are unwittingly proving his point that it's tough to depend on UTA trains and buses to get to work or move around freely.
Last month, Cragun challenged the 16 board members to limit their transportation to just UTA for seven consecutive days to see the challenges riders like him face. Three accepted, four declined and Cragun says he cannot get answers out of the rest.
"The four who declined did it primarily because of work-related issues. That was kind of the whole point of the challenge, to demonstrate there are limitations to somebody's ability to get to work," said Cragun, who presented an online petition with more than 3,300 signatures to the board seeking more late-night service.
He said he's disappointed that 81 percent of the board isn't taking the challenge.
"They're sending the wrong message to their riders," Cragun said. "It is as if the other board members are either too good for their own services or don't care. I don't think that is the case, but it looks that way."
UTA board Chairman Greg Hughes, who also is a state legislator, did take the challenge along with members Necia Christensen and Keith Bartholomew and he defends those who did not.
"I think it's understandable that some may not be able to use UTA exclusively" for seven days because of "age, or difficulty getting around or what people's schedules are," Hughes said.
"Make no mistake, trustees do use transit and it's important that trustees use transit," Hughes said. "In fact, I am probably the one who uses it less than my fellow trustees as a matter of course."
Board members are volunteers appointed by local cities, counties or the Legislature to govern UTA. They are paid $50 per meeting (for up to four meetings a month), and are given an unlimited UTA pass to ride transit, Hughes said.
But Hughes said he chose not to use that UTA-provided pass during his seven-day challenge, and instead bought an electronic FAREPAY card to monitor the costs of his trips. "I forgot to tap off sometimes," he said.
Hughes also used his car a bit to drive to train stations, which he said he figures many UTA riders do.
On one trip to his dentist, he found the office was exactly a mile from the nearest bus or train so he walked both ways. He said he was doing so much walking that he had to dump his leather-soled shoes for some old rubber-soled shoes in his closet.
Because of his experience, Hughes said, he will recommend some changes. That includes improving the part of its website to help riders plan trips. "I found some apps that I bought that were much more user-friendly," Hughes said.
"I loved it," he said of his experience. "My commute became more pleasant, believe it or not. It allowed me more time to organize" and do work instead of just driving or listening to the radio. He said it also forced him to plan his day and transportation more closely.
Kyle Waters, a Democrat who is running against Hughes for his Draper legislative seat, also took the seven-day challenge, and reports more trouble than Hughes found.
"I had to leave an event at 6:45 p.m. last week to catch the last bus" of the night, he said adding he was surprised the last bus was so early. "This weekend was kind of tough because the one bus that runs through Draper doesn't run on weekends," so he bicycled.
Waters added he chose to start his challenge after Labor Day "because UTA wasn't running" then.
His challenge was easier than some, Waters said, because "there were still people in my house who were driving. My wife did the shopping …. I would have completely missed the bus Friday because one of the kids had to use the bathroom right when we were leaving," but his wife took care of transporting that child.
Cragun said he is thankful for those who have taken his challenge. He plans to attend the next UTA board meeting Sept. 24 to praise those who did and to find out about their experiences.