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Studies under way on 'zero fare' transit in Utah

Posted at 1:22 PM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 18:15:44-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Studies are under way to look at the feasibility of "zero fare" transit across Utah.

At a briefing before the Utah State Legislature's interim transportation committee, the CEO of Utah Transit Authority said the agency recorded a surge in ridership as a result of "Free Fare February." Some lawmakers have pushed for the concept of making it "free fare forever."

"Free fare" isn't actually that. When UTA implemented "Free Fare February," local governments and community partners spent roughly $2.5 million to cover lost fares. But there were benefits. Surveys showed most riders tried it out because it was free and many would keep riding if it continued, CEO Jay Fox told lawmakers.

The Wasatch Front Regional Council, Utah's Department of Transportation, UTA and others are now studying whether a "zero fare" transit would be beneficial in terms of ridership, air quality, traffic and economics.

"This is a policy decision for the state to make. The viability is a function of studying the issue and I think it’s studying on many fronts," Fox said. "It’s operations, it’s what the capital requirements and most of all, do we get a return on investment? And when I say we I’m talking about all Utahns. Do we get a return on investment for moving the operational costs that are covered by fare to the public?"

Governor Spencer Cox has said the idea of "zero fare" is something worth exploring, particularly as Utahns have struggled with increased costs of gasoline.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, said she would like to see a pilot project to expand on "Free Fare February" perhaps in the summer or winter to get more data and persuade people to use it in times when northern Utah's air pollution is at its worst.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said constituents in her area of the Salt Lake Valley have struggled with a lack of frequency of buses and trains, making it difficult to actually use. Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, said he personally found it difficult without any frequency and suggested that may be a bigger priority than free fares.

UTA and UDOT jointly are working on projects centered around the Point of the Mountain development (replacing the old Utah State Prison). With funding to double-track Frontrunner, the commuter rail line has a goal of running trains across its system every 15 minutes at peak times.