PROVO With already low ridership in further decline, the Utah Transit Authority proposes to attract Utah County riders by making bus routes shorter and targeted to popular destinations.
Proposed changes were made public in a report Monday. UTA will receive comment on the plans until Feb. 25, then revise the report before seeking final approval. Changes in Utah County's routes would take effect in August.
"The customers have been telling us that they want us to
change what we're doing because they're discontinuing use of the system," said Gerry Pachucki, manager of service development at UTA.
Copies of the proposed plan are available on buses throughout Utah County and at the Mount Timpanogos Transit Center, just east of University Mall in Orem. A series of meetings will be held next week for public questions and comments.
For a year, UTA conducted an in-depth study of Utah County ridership. The transit authority classified Utah County riders in three categories: students, commuters to Salt Lake County and local "transit-oriented" riders.
The latter were found to be generally employed in service industries and had salaries under $30,000 per year, Pachucki said. But among the most frequent Utah County bus riders were students at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley State College.
"It may be a little slow, but it will get you there," said BYU student Autumn Foster, boarding a bus Tuesday in front of the Law School. "I live close to campus so I can actually walk, but I use the bus for other things, like shopping or going to Salt Lake."
The most frequent complaint of Utah County riders is that buses don't arrive on time, according to preliminary UTA surveys. The transit authority proposes to alleviate that problem by shortening routes, thus limiting the potential for a particular bus to get behind schedule.
"They need to be on time, especially on BYU campus where students need to get to class," said Ana Wiggins, who rides the bus from Orem to Provo almost daily.
The proposed plan would increase the number of routes that take riders to popular locations such as BYU, UVSC, University Mall, Provo's East Bay business district and the Provo Towne Centre shopping complex. Riders told UTA they want more frequent service and less wasted time traveling through areas where no one gets on or off.
UTA uses automatic passenger counters on some of its buses, and the transit authority compiled sophisticated demographic data on Utah County riders. That data, along with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, were plugged into a new mapping software program that allowed for a detailed analysis of how UTA could improve service.
"We did a lot of surveying of our customers to determine who they were and what was important to them," Pachucki said. "You're seeing now the process UTA will be using in the future to plan its routes."
UTA also found that some Utah County residents like to drive their cars to the new TRAX station in Sandy and then take the light-rail train to downtown Salt Lake City. Others use TRAX for special events like Utah Jazz basketball games.
But a healthy dose of commuters preferred express buses over TRAX, so UTA added express routes that don't connect with light rail. The transit authority also adjusted times of commuter buses to account for overload during peak hours, and larger capacity buses will be employed between Utah and Salt Lake counties beginning in April.
Meetings on the proposed changes will be held Feb. 15 at UVSC (Room SC213C from 12:30 to 2 p.m.) and the Spanish Fork Library (6 to 8 p.m.); on Feb. 16 at the Mount Timpanogos Transit Center (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) and Provo City Hall (7 to 9 p.m.); and Feb. 17 at American Fork City Hall (7 to 9 p.m.) Comments also may be submitted by mail, by phoning 227-8994 or by e-mail by visiting (http://www.utabus.com/uta).