What really started it was that I moved next to a train station and so it was really (convenient). The advantages are that the commute kind of disappears. It just removes a certain amount of stress every day. —Chris Miles
SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah County commuter Chris Miles, having to battle crowded freeway traffic en route to Salt Lake City every day was a grind.
But since December 2012, he said, his stress level has dropped dramatically thanks to the extension of the FrontRunner commuter rail line, launched nearly a year and a half ago by Utah Transit Authority. A Lehi resident, Miles, 40, said taking the train as made his hourlong daily commute much less nerve-racking now that someone else is doing the driving.
“What really started it was that I moved next to a train station and so it was really (convenient),” he said. “The advantages are that the commute kind of disappears. It just removes a certain amount of stress every day.”
He is among a growing number of riders taking advantage of Utah's rail system, which more than doubled its commuter rail ridership from 2012 to 2013.
FrontRunner ridership rose 103 percent in 2013, according to information from the American Public Transportation Association, toping performance gains by cities nationwide, where overall commuter-rail travel increased by 2 percent.
The report showed that Utahns also rode light rail more often in 2013 with ridership increasing by 6 percent on TRAX. Nationally, ridership for light rail climbed 1.5 percent.
"You don’t even think about the commute anymore,” Miles said. “And I’ve also gotten some of my friends to ride, so it has become a social event, too.” He also likes the idea of reducing his own impact on the local environment by taking his vehicle out of the overall traffic equation.
The report also showed that Americans boarded public transit buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming, with nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, the highest total since 1956. The numbers also showed transit ridership had fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession.
Today, the Salt Lake area features one of the more recently developed public transportation systems, with a 140-mile rail system that has been built in about 12 years.
The 45-mile commuter-rail line between Provo and Salt Lake City opened in December 2012, extending commuter rail a total of about 80 miles north to Ogden. The Provo extension was one of several new rail lines that began operation over the past two years.
The 6-mile TRAX Green Line to Salt Lake City International Airport began carrying passengers this past April, while the Blue Line launched a light rail extension to Draper last fall. Those two lines put the finishing touches on the regional rail transit system that spans 87 miles along the Wasatch Front.
The Brookings Institution recently determined the system was convenient for about 65 percent of commuters in its service territory — more than any other U.S. metro area.
Despite the expansion of commuter and light rail and an 8 percent decline from the previous year, the most-used form of public transit in Utah remains buses, with 19.4 million riders last year. Between trains and buses, riders took more than 44 million trips on UTA transit lines last year — up 3 percent from 2012.