Residents of American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Lehi will decide within a year whether they want public transportation in their cities.

Provision of that service depends primarily on one thing - residents' willingness to pay for it.The Utah Transit Authority has received letters from the American Fork and Pleasant Grove city councils asking UTA to start the process that would bring bus service to their cities.

In a City Council meeting, American Fork Mayor R. Kent Evans said, "We have enough movement of traffic, we need to facilitate movement of people. It's time we looked at alternatives to provide transportation into Salt Lake City and Provo for our citizens."

UTA has not received a letter from Lehi, but the Lehi City Council has expressed interest in providing its residents with bus service.

Craig Rasmussen, public information officer for UTA, said receipt of letters from cities interested in public transportation service is the first step in a process that takes a year or so to complete.

UTA will provide the cities with financial statements and an annexation proposal (cities must agree to join a public transit district operated by UTA).

Assuming the cities find no problems with the annexation proposal or UTA's financial status, UTA will do site studies and hold neighborhood meetings to outline proposed routes. Proposed routes are given an in-house review by UTA also.

The neighborhood meetings will be followed by public hearings in each city, and final approval of the terms and conditions of annexation by each city council.

Special elections will then be held, in which residents will be asked to approve a quarter of 1 percent increase in sales tax to subsidize bus service.

"They (the residents) have to agree to the one-fourth of a cent sales tax increase," Rasmussen said. "Without this support, the interest on UTA's part is nil."

Voters in Cache County, meanwhile, are deciding Tuesday whether they are willing to support expansion of bus service into their area. And UTA officials Monday issued a statement clarifying information published and broadcast recently that UTA Manager John Pingree said may have been misleading and confusing to voters.

If voters support the ballot issue, Pingree said, "UTA stands to gain nothing other than improved service for the remainder of our patrons in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties, and the cities of Provo and Orem."

He denied opponents' charge that the cost inflation for public transportation is as high as medical cost inflation, which is in the double digits. "This is simply not true, because UTA's real cost per mile has actually declined by 40 percent since 1980 in face of annual inflation of 5 percent per year," Pingree said.

"Our operating costs per mile along the Wasatch Front is $2.16 per mile, while transit organizations across the country run as high as $6 per mile," he added.

UTA has operated in the three-county area of Weber, Davis and Salt Lake since 1970. Service expanded to Provo and Orem in 1985.

Information provided by UTA says the organization served close to 18 million riders in 1987.