Salt Lake City pledges to work with UTA to expand transit reach

Published: Monday, Dec. 9 2013 10:51 p.m. MST

Members of the Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees met Monday with Salt Lake City Council members to review achievements for the year and discuss future collaborative objectives.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Launching four new light-rail lines and providing transit passes for every resident of Utah's largest city would seem to be worthy accomplishments during a 12-month period.

But even loftier goals lie ahead for civic leaders in Salt Lake City.

Members of the Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees met Monday with Salt Lake City Council members to review achievements for the year and discuss future collaborative objectives. While the respective groups were proud of what was done in 2013, in order for mass transit to continue to prosper, new goals should be set at higher levels, officials said.

“You should be able to get anywhere you want to go in Salt Lake with just one transfer,” City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said.

Everyone should be able to get to two transit routes within a quarter-mile of where they live or work, LaMalfa said. Mass transit hours of operation should mirror the times people go to and from work, particularly around work shifts, he added.

LaMalfa said the city and UTA hope to devise a plan to expand transit options to make such travel possible in the not-so-distant future.

Additionally, UTA is working on a distance-based fare system to make using buses and rail more financially equitable and affordable. However, LaMalfa said, if more people would use mass transit more often, those kinds of fare plans might not be necessary.

“If we could get a (transit) pass in every(one’s) pocket, then we wouldn’t have to worry about distance fares,” he said.

Starting next month, Salt Lake City residents will be able to purchase a transit pass for $350 annually — if paid up front in full — or for $30 per month for 12 months.

The program is a partnership between UTA and Salt Lake City that is similar to the current Eco-Pass program offered by UTA to businesses and institutions. Residency would be proven with a copy of a lease or mortgage agreement, property tax notice, or two pieces of formal mail such as a utility bill or bank statement.

The resident transit pass program is a new approach to make riding transit more convenient for Salt Lake City residents, LaMalfa explained.

He added that the city has other goals to improve transit, such as working to extend the hours of operation and reducing wait times for riders.

“So you don’t have to think about schedules. You just show up at a station (or bus stop), and within 10 minutes you’ve got a (ride),” LaMalfa said.

Currently, UTA has a policy of changing routes quarterly, but the city would like to improve route stability and create a better environment for economic and residential development across the valley.

“We think homeowners, developers (and businesses) are all going to be winners in making (us) a transit-oriented city,” LaMalfa said.

He noted that the city could aid in the growth process by using policy tools that expand zoning in certain areas to create greater density that promotes increased transit access.

“We could make it so that there are so many bus riders in an area that UTA won’t be able to change the routes,” LaMalfa said. “The demand will be too much.”

The city could also help raise revenue through bonding to aid in the development of transit projects such as the recently launched Sugar House S-Line streetcar.

“(We) want to be a transit-oriented city. And we’ll use our policy tools to help advance UTA’s goals of doubling ridership, improving air quality and working together we are going to make a great team,” LaMalfa added.

For its part, UTA leaders said the agency wants to continue working in partnership with cities along the Wasatch Front to advance the goal of improved mass transit.

“Our job is to help achieve the community’s goals,” UTA General Manager Michael Allegra said. “We have plans for future streetcars and a lot more bus-rapid transit and bus services.”

Allegra noted that technology would be a major tool in the advancement of transit, including mobile apps that make it easier for riders to find travel information, as well as technology that makes paying fares much easier.

“Almost everybody has access to a car. We want everybody to have access to transit as well,” Allegra said. “Making it as easy to use transit as it is to use your car is our goal.”

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