SALT LAKE CITY -- In an effort to cut air pollution, Mayor Ralph Becker is proposing the city offer deeply-discounted transit passes for its residents.
Becker announced a tentative deal with the Utah Transit Authority on Friday, offering $30 a month "eco-passes" to Salt Lake City residents. The passes would give residents access to buses, TRAX and FrontRunner within the core UTA service area (buses to the ski resorts, Park City and Paratransit are not included).
"Our goal in the city is to improve our quality of life and improve air quality in our city," Becker told FOX 13 News.
The mayor said he believes the proposal is a first-of-its-kind in the nation. The passes are an effort by the city to persuade residents to take public transit instead of driving. It has the backing of some environmental groups.
"This really alleviates a major barrier," said Erin Mendenhall, the executive director of the group Breathe Utah. "The biggest barrier we hear is from residents wanting to access transit and simply not being able to afford it."
The passes would be offered by the city to residents at a cost of $30 per month. UTA said its eco-passes offered through major employers typically sell for $90. The city would have to spend about $150,000 to administer the program, which allows residents to pay for the discounted passes on their water utility bills.
UTA said it must sell a minimum of 6,000 passes to break even on the program. UTA General Manager Mike Allegra said they are taking a risk by offering such drastically reduced rates, but hoped to make it up with an increase in ridership.
"Fill up those seats, make sure we don't lose any money at this, at the end of the day maybe even make a little money and add some service," Allegra told FOX 13.
Because taxpayer funds are involved, the Salt Lake City Council must consider Becker's proposal. Councilman Stan Penfold said he would support it.
"I think there's opportunity for this city to be financially supportive," he said. "What I hear from my constituents is they are absolutely willing to do that."
Residents FOX 13 spoke with were more impressed with the economics of the proposal than the environmental initiative. Krystal Young showed her $83.75 monthly bus pass.
"If you don't get the bus pass, it's over $100 and you'd be paying going back and forth," she said. "It sounds like it would be a lot cheaper. Not just for me, but a lot of people."