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Dave Conley, Deseret News Archives
Children from West Valley's ABC Preschool wait for their free (and for some, first) bus ride in July 1983.

SALT LAKE CITY— The Utah Transit Authority had its humble start just over 40 years ago, with just 68 old buses and routes only in Salt Lake County.

Contrast that with today, when UTA boasts more than 490 buses, some 150 paratransit vehicles, 450 vanpool vehicles, plus TRAX and FrontRunner trains.

UTA also has routes in six different counties.

The Deseret News has reported extensively on UTA's growth over those four decades. Here's a condensed history of highlights.

The Utah Transit Authority was officially formed March 3, 1970, and took over the former Salt Lake City Lines on Aug. 10 of that year.

However, the mainstay of the original UTA fleet was buses built in the early 1950s. The newest buses in the fleet were built in 1962.

Each bus was repainted light blue and white with a red belt rail to signify the start of UTA.

A steady source of funding was UTA's greatest challenge in its early days. It wasn't until 1973 that the state Legislature diverted profits from state liquor sales to UTA. In November of 1973 Davis and Weber counties joined UTA. At that time, it meant that UTA covered the area where about 70 percent of the state's population resided.

UTA expanded further in 1974, when it acquired Ogden Bus Lines, Metro Transportation and Lake Shore Motor Coach Lines.

It was just after that when UTA began offering bus service between Salt Lake and Ogden, a route that became one of its busiest services.

Also by 1974, the Legislature began giving a share of the sales tax to UTA. Most of UTA's fares at the time were 15 cents — tied for the lowest in the nation with Atlanta.

These low fares increased ridership, and UTA began to expand its service. It also instituted some park-and-ride parking lots so bus passengers could more easily take public transportation.

By the mid 1970s, UTA's annual ridership had reached 600,000 passengers.

However, Davis County voters didn't approve public transit funding until the fall of 1975, and so its service had been lagging behind Salt Lake and Weber counties.

Getting UTA service into the West Valley area of Salt Lake County was difficult, and various private bus companies had to be bought out in the mid-1970s to move into the area.

Another UTA milestone came in the late 1970s when it began its first ski bus service between the Snowbird and Alta ski resorts in Little Cottonwood Canyon with a 25-cent fare.

By 1984, the ski resorts even chipped in some money to help pay for 32 new buses designed to take ski passengers to the resorts.

Rapid UTA expansion caused some maintenance and labor problems, but it solved those issues over time.

By 1979, construction on a new facility at Meadowbrook was under way for an operations center and administrative headquarters.

Utah County joined the UTA system in 1984, with a sales tax approval by voters.

By 1988, UTA had established a free-fare zone in downtown Salt Lake City, and its Golden Spike express bus service on I-15 between Salt Lake City and Ogden had been running several years.

UTA would add north-south TRAX service to Salt Lake County on 1999, expand that to the University of Utah in 2001 and premiere Frontrunner train service in 2008.

Photo researcher Ron Fox has assembled many UTA photos that can be seen in full online at www.deseretnews.com