PROVO — The Utah Transit Authority wasn't invited to the table when a task force of state, county and local elected officials was created to discuss transit options for Utah County.

So UTA planners sat down at their own table to explore how to best meet the county's growing transit needs.

Those separate routes led to similar visions for Utah County's transit future and soon may reach an intersection.

"Everyone wants a solution to transit problems," said Hugh Johnson, UTA regional general manager. "There has been somewhat of a disconnect in communicating in the past, but I think we're working through that now."

For nearly a year, a Utah County task force worked to create Transit Vision 2030, a long-term mobility strategy unveiled earlier this month.

UTA was made aware of the task force but not invited to participate, which allowed the group to take an independent look at transit in the county, said Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, the committee's chairman.

One of the six "opportunities" identified in Transit Vision 2030 calls for a departure from UTA by putting local jurisdictions in control of local bus service.

"It's not about someone doing a good job or someone doing a bad job," Billings said. "It's really about moving forward and moving to the next level. We can't get where we need to go based on what we've been doing in the past. We've got to step up, and we're trying to fill that role."

UTA has responded with a proposed transit makeover for Utah County that Johnson says would allow the system to "easily key into anything that could come in the future, such as commuter rail or light rail."

Johnson said the proposal isn't designed to counter or replace Transit Vision 2030, but simply is UTA's own vision for transit in Utah County.

"We just wanted to show that we're not sitting back idly," he said. "We have some ideas of what can happen as well. . . . We're anxious to integrate what we're trying to do with what Mayor Billings is envisioning."

Consulting firm Carter & Burgess was hired by the task force with funding from Utah County and the Mountainland Association of Governments to conduct an independent analysis of Utah County's current and future transit needs.

Billings said that process has reached the point that UTA's input is encouraged.

"I hope UTA gets involved," he said. "I hope they comment on the experts' recommendations. Perhaps they will even propose to be a player in the implementation of those things."

UTA's four-layer proposal combines rapid transportation, express routes, a community connector system and expanded local service to address the needs of both short-trip and long-distance riders.

"We can't be all things to all people," Johnson said, "but we want to provide the best service we can. This system is set up so it meets the current needs of Utah County."

It's also a different concept, he said, and would require riders to change their way of thinking about transit.

UTA surveys have shown that Utah County riders dislike transfers — they don't want to ride more than one bus to get where they're going.

"It's just not practical to make that happen any longer," Johnson said. "We're getting too big."

The proposed system would be similar — though much smaller than — those in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area, where several systems cooperate to allow for easy transfers, he said.

The cost for such a transformation is unknown, though it "absolutely" would require an increase in funding, Johnson said. The proposal still needs to be modeled before UTA can attach a price tag to it.

However, portions of UTA's plans could be phased in right away, he said, beginning with modifying the express service to be more nodal-based — meaning riders gather at a central location such as a park-and-ride, resulting in fewer stops.

UTA already has implemented its first attempt at that with Route 805, which picks up riders in south Utah County and takes them to downtown Salt Lake City.

Beginning with about five riders per day in August 2005, the route now transports 75 riders a day in each direction, Johnson said.

"That's been an excellent example of what the demand is and what we can achieve," he said.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com