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Kennecott’s free UTA passes: Goodwill or good PR?

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Posted at 9:32 PM, Jan 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-31 00:05:09-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Some are saying that Kennecott's program to give free UTA passes on red air days sounded better than it actually was.

Kennecott, along with Downtown Alliance, gave away 2,500 free UTA day passes that could be used on red air days in hopes of helping reduce air pollution across the Wasatch Front.

But once Josh Stewart received his pass in the mail, he felt it was more of a publicity stunt than a gesture of good will.

Stewart says he though the passes were good for multiple red air days, not just one. He thinks Kennecott representatives misled the public in media interviews.

"They put up these dinky little bus passes trying to look like they're actually making a difference and it seems fake," Stewart said. "They say, 'Good on any red air day.' That's open to interpretation. If they could specify, 'Open on a single red air day,' that would at least have been straightforward."

Kennecott spokesperson Kyle Bennett says that they felt they were clear on the conditions of the pass, but they're sorry for any confusion.

"We feel we were very clear through our social media channels and on our website that this pass was good for one person on one red air quality day," Bennett said.

Kennecott's offer never mentioned a limit on the number of passes they were giving away - 2,500 in this case - which is a fraction of the average 153,000 commuters boarding UTA every day last month, and some users say that number isn't enough.

"If you were to take 2,500 cars off the road for a week that might actually make a difference but one day? They'll be able to say, 'Oh yeah, we saved this much in fuel,' but what real difference did it make," Stewart said.

Bennett says that big solutions sometimes start small.

"This is one way for us to get some traction with individuals. We're hoping they figure out that public transportation is quick and the word spreads," Bennett said.

Kennecott paid full price for the 2,500 passes, which totals just over $14,000, but does the good press mean more money for Kennecott? Stewart thinks so.

"I don't know how that equates with the $14,000 investment but I don't feel that's what they're trying to do; to match that or double or triple that. They're working to be a more environmentally aware company and help with the cause that's immediate," said Tim Brown, who owns Richter 7 Public Relations.

Brown says that with campaigns like the free passes, companies are testing the water to see if UTA riders are actually using those free passes. Kennecott agrees. They say that they're expecting data in the spring or early summer and that may determine whether they hand out more passes in the future.