Deseret News Graphicmichael Brandy, Deseret News
Ricki Landers, left, and others from the Disabled Rights Action Committee protest possible Utah Transit Authority price increases — due to fuel costs — outside UTA offices in South Salt Lake Tuesday.

Should the Utah Transit Authority raise prices for TRAX, FrontRunner and buses because of high fuel costs?

The UTA board of directors will decide that issue at its May 28 meeting.

About two dozen people attended the first of three UTA meetings on a possible surcharge — this one Tuesday night at the UTA offices in Salt Lake — and most in attendance seemed against any increases.

Those who can't attend one of the meetings can e-mail, telephone or mail in their comments to UTA. Deadline for comments is May 20. It is also noted that these three UTA meetings accept public comment individually but that there is not an open microphone in front of an audience.

About 18 members of the combined Anti-Hunger Action Committee and the Disabled Rights Action Committee walked out of Tuesday's meeting to protest the lack of a public microphone, missing a UTA presentation and a chance to make comment there.

"It's unfortunate they decided to leave," UTA general manager John Inglish said. "We do many hearings this way."

He also said "fuel prices are astronomical" and that even though UTA has made its own cost reductions that total $2.7 million, it has no other internal way — short of cutting service — to make up a projected $5 million deficit by the end of the year.

"We realize this will seriously impact low-income people," Inglish said, explaining UTA can't identify them, except through the use of the Horizon Card. Those who show such a card will not be charged the proposed surcharge.

He also promised the surcharge will come off, if fuel prices go down.

Since Jan. 1, diesel fuel has skyrocketed more than 25 percent. Considering UTA will be purchasing 6.1 million gallons of diesel fuel this year, every 10-cent increase in fuel adds as much as $610,000 to UTA's operating costs.

The two aforementioned committees held a special protest prior to UTA's first public hearing, chanting, "High fares are unfair."

"I think it's crazy," Cozette Campbell of Riverton said. "I take the bus everywhere. But I won't ride it if they raise the prices."

Tammi Diaz of South Salt Lake had a similar opinion.

"I'm totally against it," she said. "It's further destruction of the bus system," noting that higher prices will probably cause UTA to lose some passengers.

"I think they're pricing low-income people off the bus," Bill Tibbitts of Salt Lake, said. "This is a pretty clear case of price gouging."

UTA has already reduced its costs through hiring delays and the elimination of certain contracted services, as well as restricted travel, decreased supply purchases and the implementation of other strategic cost-cutting practices. However, this is not enough to offset rising fuel prices.

With fuel prices showing no indication of decline, the more likely scenario is that this could be the first in a series of increased fares.

UTA reported a $3.49-a-gallon average fuel cost for the past quarter. The surcharge matrix the agency is using calls for additional charges as diesel prices pass whole dollar benchmarks. The current proposed increase covers fuel prices in the $3-3.99 per gallon range. When the next level of $4-$4.99 is reached, an additional surcharge could be assessed. Each increase is expected to add about $200,000 to UTA's monthly revenues.

The scheduled fare increase for the beginning of next year also will remain in place, regardless of the fuel surcharge proposal.

• E-mail comments to: cburningham@rideuta.com

• Mail comments to: UTA, c/o Celeste Burningham, 3600 S. 700 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84119

• Telephone comments: 801-287-2369

• Two more public hearings are planned on the fuel surcharge:

— Utah County: 5:30 p.m., today, Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave., Room 201, Provo.

— Weber County: 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Ogden Commission Chambers, Ogden County Building, 2380 Washington Blvd. Ogden.

• For more information, go to www.rideuta.com.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com