Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - Passengers get on and off a bus.

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 20,000 commuters left their vehicles at home and took advantage of free rides on mass transit on Feb. 28 and March 1.

According the the Utah Transit Agency, the free fare days resulted in a 16 percent increase in boardings for the entire system.

During February, the agency said there was an average of 151,933 boardings systemwide. On Feb. 28, that figure jumped to 171,664, and on March 1, 181,365 passengers took mass transit.

Compared to 75,479 average weekday boardings in February, bus ridership increased 10 percent. On Feb. 28, 82,489 passengers rode UTA buses and on March 1 the number rose to 83,818. The agency said the increase in bus ridership stands out in comparison to a free fare event in December 2017 when bus ridership did not increase by a noticeable margin.

TRAX experienced a 14 percent increase during the two days, with a daily average of 65,366 riders. A typical day in February saw TRAX carry 57,319 boardings. On Feb. 28, TRAX ridership stood at 64,420 and on March 1 TRAX saw 66,312 riders.

FrontRunner boardings increased by 46 percent with average daily boardings of 27,995. Compared to the February average of 19,135 trips per day FrontRunner transported 24,755 riders on Feb. 28 and 31,235 passengers on March 1.

UTA estimates the free fare days removed approximately 10,497 vehicles from the road each day and saved more than 2.5 tons of pollutants and more than 80 tons of greenhouse gas from entering the air.

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The free fare days were sponsored by Salt Lake County, Intermountain Healthcare, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office and Davis County in partnership with UTA.

“Free fare days consistently show that when you remove burdens from transit, people take it,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement. “What leaders should take away from these results is that investing in transit pays off, both in terms of clearing our air and creating equity in our community.”

During the recently concluded legislative session, lawmakers signed off on a pilot program to fund free fare days on mass transit during inversion buildups.