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Cox says 'free fare forever' on public transit 'worth exploring'

Posted at 1:43 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-21 19:46:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox signaled that he was open to the idea of making all public transit in Utah free.

Speaking to reporters at his monthly news conference on PBS Utah, the governor floated the idea of eliminating transit fares statewide as a way to combat high gasoline prices. Gov. Cox said he was in discussions with Republican legislative leaders about the best way to help Utahns.

The state is not able to eliminate the gasoline tax like other places have done because of constitutional mechanisms that dictate the budget. However, the governor said he was open to financing free public transit across the state for three to six months. It would cost about $3 million a month to do, he said.

Utah Transit Authority saw a big increase in ridership for "Free Fare February," an idea orchestrated by legislative leaders and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. It made all transit along UTA's system free. What the agency saw was big boosts in ridership.

The success of that experiment has prompted the mayor and others to consider whether it ought to be "free fare forever." The issue is the cost — legislative analysis has put it from $40-50 million.

Asked about "free fare forever" by FOX 13 News, the governor signaled his willingness to consider it.

"It’s an idea worth exploring," he said. "Certainly I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the numbers that came out. I would have to look at long term what that looks but doing something like this (free fare to combat high gas prices) would give us even more data to study."