SALT LAKE CITY — Putting buses on the streets for longer hours will be among the Utah Transit Authority's high priority agenda items if voters support a ballot initiative in November.
Proposition 1 would “provide funding for transportation improvements such as roads, sidewalks, trails, maintenance, bus and rail service and safety features.” The measure would increase sales taxes — excluding food purchases — by a penny for every $4 spent to generate revenue to fund local transportation.
Forty percent of the tax money would go to the UTA in the six counties the agency serves, while the remaining funds would go to county and city budgets for local road projects.
If the sales tax increase passes, UTA has committed to “use the funds to increase service, primarily bus service, including more frequency, longer service hours and more weekend service, as well as efforts to improve connections and amenities designed to improve the customer experience,” according to the agency's website. In August, the UTA Board of Trustees also passed a resolution reiterating the agency’s intent to use the additional funding for those priorities.
“We’d like the system to work better,” said UTA chief planning officer Matt Sibul. If approved, the local option sales tax could generate approximately $40 million, to be divided among the various counties in the agency’s service area.
Once fully implemented, the improvements would take 3.2 million vehicles off area roads annually, he said, meaning cleaner air and energy conservation.
“We’d boost our ridership about 15 percent,” Sibul added. “It would positively impact 1.2 million people. A lot of people across the Wasatch Front would benefit from this.”
Among the supporters of the agency’s long-range plan, Chris Stout, president and co-founder of the Utah Transit Riders Union, said, “It’s actually a pretty good plan.”
The organization advocates for transit users, statewide in an effort to make transit more reliable, accessible, comfortable, efficient and affordable.
Stout said that as long as the funding would be used to improve service, then his group would be supportive of UTA’s efforts.
“We want expanded service — mostly bus service — so the system can be a fully robust, true transportation system,” he said. “If (UTA) follows through with its plans, it’s going to be a positive thing for transit riders.”
Spotty weekend service has been a concern expressed by many regular UTA riders, particularly on bus routes. West Valley resident Walter Cichocki, 68, said any improvements would be welcome, noting that using public transit as his primary form of transportation can be extremely challenging especially on weekends.
“They should have more buses on Sundays,” he said. “Where I live there is nothing. I feel shut-in on Sundays. If they put some buses out on Sunday, people would be able to get out of their homes and maybe go downtown and have some fun. ”
Cichocki said that due to the lack of weekend service he often has to forgo weekend outings rather than risk missing one of the few buses that run on Saturday or walk long distances to catch one of the routes that does operate on the weekend. When the weather is too hot or too cold, he said he is forced to stay home because taking a taxi is too expensive.
He added that since UTA often tries to encourage people to use public transit, the agency should do what it can to make the system more convenient.
“People want to get out,” he said. “But if public transportation is not there, how can they use it?”
UTA has scheduled several open house events to accept public input on the proposed sales tax initiative and get comment on possible service improvements. The first events will take place on Sept. 24 at the Ogden Transit Center at 6 a.m. and again at 3 p.m.
UTA open houses
Sept. 24 — Ogden Transit Center, 2350 S. Wall Ave., 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Sept. 29 —UTA Murray Central Station, 5144 S. 140 West, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 — UTA Orem Station, 1350 W. 900 South, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 — UTA Clearfield Station, 1250 S. State, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 — UTA Draper Station, 12997 S. FrontRunner Blvd., 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 — West Valley Central Station, 2750 W. 3590 South, 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 — UTA Lehi Station, 3101 N. Ashton Blvd., 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Additional open houses are being scheduled with future dates to be announced.
E-mail: [email protected]