It's too late to wrap this gift for Christmas, but your next TRAX ride to the Salt Lake City Main Library may be free.

Officials with the city library and the Utah Transit Authority are discussing the idea of extending UTA's downtown free-fare zone to include the Library station. TRAX riders then would be able to ride free from Delta Center through downtown to the Library station, 210 E. 400 South, by taking the University line.

One consultant on the project told the Deseret Morning News the free-fare zone extension could happen before spring.

"We would be very excited about that," said Chip Ward, assistant director of the Salt Lake City Main Library.

Ward said extending the free-fare zone makes sense because the library has become a major draw for downtown visitors.

Library staffers have received regular inquiries from patrons about the Library station joining the free-fare zone.

Bill Knowles, a transit consultant who volunteered to negotiate with UTA for the city, said the original plan when the University line was designed was to include the Library stop as part of the free-fare zone.

UTA spokesman Justin Jones said UTA inked an agreement with Salt Lake City to establish a TRAX free-fare zone back in 1997, when TRAX was on the drawing board. The zone was to include all stops from the Delta Center and end at 200 East on 400 South.

"The original concept was to have the (Library) train station on the west side of second east," which is within the zone, Knowles said.

But concerns over traffic flow prompted TRAX designers to move the station farther east in the center of 400 South. Unfortunately, the free-fare zone did not follow. Knowles said any follow-up to extend the zone fell off the radar screen.

"There were people sitting in different meetings assuming different things," he said.

So far, Knowles said his talks with UTA representatives have been promising. But the move would result in lost TRAX revenue.

"Anything that increases service or giving up more revenue is a tough subject right now," given the sluggish economy, he said.

Jones said UTA is interested in the plan, but talks are in the early stages. Revenue loss is not a big issue in the scheme of things, he said.

"It's not that it's a huge cash cow for us," Jones said.

He added UTA must strike a balance between servicing the community and keeping its budget balanced.

Jones said the extension is part of a much larger review of services UTA provides in Salt Lake City. Once the review is completed, Jones said UTA will sit down with Salt Lake City officials and negotiate what transit services will change inside the city. Such negotiations may take time, Jones said.

Knowles said he had hoped the change would take place before Christmas, but now estimates it could happen before spring. Jones said that is a possibility, but from UTA's standpoint, it may take up to a year to occur.

News of the possible change has library staff excited.

"TRAX has been an unqualified success and I think that the new main library has been a success as well," Ward said. "I think it would be a good idea to make them complementary."


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