You’ve heard the phrase time is money? Well, when it comes to transit that couldn’t be more true.
Every day UTA transports thousands of people to work, school, shopping and entertainment venues. Though our service is not perfect, we do our very best to get our riders where they need to be, when they need to be there. As an agency, we’re constantly evaluating service, looking for opportunities to make adjustments and run as efficiently as possible.
The recent economic downturn has forced us to even more closely consider how we operate in each community. We’re working hard to look for additional opportunities that will help us run our system more cost-effectively and in the long run, hopefully keep us from having to make service cuts.
In an effort to increase operational efficiency, save both time and money, UTA has proposed eliminating free fare on buses in the downtown area. Free service on TRAX between 225 East and 600 West from South Temple to 500 South would remain in place.
The bus free fare zone policy has been an operational and public safety challenge that has been under review for sometime.
Though the immediate costs of the financial subsidy for free fare on buses in the downtown area is fairly minimal – estimates range from $100-200,000 per year – the operational inefficiencies arising from the program are more significant.
It’s difficult to quantify the financial impact of time saved from a simpler fare system, fewer fare-related confrontations and greater trip time reliability, but based on customer and stakeholder feedback that time is valued.
When boarding the bus downtown, passengers pay when exiting instead of when boarding. This is confusing to riders and some do not pay when exiting outside of the Free Fare Zone, unintentionally violating the agency’s fare payment policy.
When riding buses it does get confusing when you’re riding on an outbound trip and the driver does not open the back door because we entered in the Free Fare Zone. – Phillip S., public comment
UTA bus operators are expected to monitor where passengers board and exit in addition to driving their vehicles. Many operators find it to be time consuming to identify and attempt to get payment from non-paying passengers, negatively impacting service for the remaining passengers.
I am supporting the elimination of the Free Fare Zone downtown…It delays the route schedule, creating an unfriendly environment for many people and visitors. – Phay P., customer comment
In addition to the riders who unintentionally disembark the bus without paying fare, UTA has identified $100,000 in lost revenue due to individuals who intentionally ride beyond the zone without payment.
Safety and Security
When confronted by operators, it’s not uncommon for fare evaders to become agitated and aggressive.
In addition, UTA continues to receive numerous comments on concerns surrounding intoxicated, foul-smelling and/or soiled riders in the Free Fare Zone. Many of those riders do not pay fare and typically have to be asked to leave the bus as it exits the downtown area.
A statistically sound survey conducted in the Free Fare Zone indicates the alteration would have a limited impact upon riders – of passengers traveling in the Free Fare Zone only 35 percent ride without a UTA pass or fare ticket. This amounts to about 225 trips per day or just over 100 riders, as most individuals make a return trip.
Much of the Free Fare Zone is walkable, accounting for only 2.3 square-miles. In addition, TRAX will remain free in the downtown area. There are only three bus routes that run more than 1/3 mile from TRAX – routes 228, 500 and 550.
As part of evaluating potential modifications to the Free Fare Zone, UTA sought feedback from multiple stakeholders in the downtown community including:
- City Creek
- Downtown Alliance
- Downtown Community Council
- Salt Lake City Library
- Salt Lake City staff
- Salt Lake Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
The agency has received positive feedback and support for the amendment.
The Downtown Alliance supports the request by the Utah Transit Authority to renegotiate terms of the inter-local agreement with Salt Lake City governing the downtown Free Fare Zone…we understand and support UTA’s desire to remove bus service from the Free Fare Zone at this time… – Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis
UTA continues to work with the agencies that work with the passengers who struggle to pay their fare. There are currently three programs that provide assistance.
- UTA provides a 50 percent discount to many homeless and low-income service providers. These partners are required to give the tokens to the population they serve at no cost.
- The Utah Department of Health issues Medicaid Punch Passes to qualifying Medicaid users for public transit trips to medical appointments. These trips are free to the user.
- UTA has partnered with the Utah Department of Workforce Services to provide a transit benefit to low-income individuals who qualify for state benefits.
Low-income service providers include:
- Asian Association of Utah
- Bountiful Community Food Pantry
- Canyons School District
- Catholic Community Services of Utah
- Community Action Program – Salt Lake City
- Community Action Program – Provo
- Crossroads Urban Center
- DCCAV – Safe Harbor
- Easter Seals – Goodwill Northern Rocky Mtn., Inc.
- Friends of the Coalition
- Granite School District
- Homeless Veterans Fellowship
- Housing Opportunities Inc.
- I Promise Foundation
- Jordan School District
- LDS Transient Service Office
- Lutheran Social Service of Utah
- Salt Lake City School District – Homeless Program
- St. Anne’s Center
- Tooele County School District
- YWCA of Salt Lake City
Organizations interested in participating in this program with UTA should contact UTA customer service at 801-743-3882.
The public is invited to participate in an online public meeting by joining a Twitter chat on Tuesday, June 19 from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. During the Twitter chat, UTA representatives will answer questions about the free fare zone proposal. UTA will be posting from its @rideuta account, and the public can join the discussion by searching the hashtag #UTAFFZ.
This chat is limited to a half hour and many questions may require a broader explanation. Those inquiries will be responded to in more depth on the UTA blog.
The conversation on Twitter will be tracked and will be included as a part of the official public record regarding the agency’s free fare zone proposal.
Due to the official element of this discussion, @rideuta will be focused on addressing the elimination of the free fare zone for bus. Other questions will be addressed once the #UTAFFZ chat is complete.
Questions or comments with obscene language, vulgarity, personal attacks or those meant solely to provoke other readers and/or UTA staff will not be addressed.
Want to get your question in early? Tweet @rideuta using #UTAFFZ anytime before the chat.
We are committed to being as transparent as possible and answering all of your questions, even if they are not covered during the chat.
New to Twitter chatting? Here are a couple of tips to get you started:
- Create a free account at Twitter.com
- Search for @rideuta and follow the account
- To view the chat in real time, we recommend following #UTAFFZ on TweetChat.com
- To participate, ask your question or comment and include the hashtag #UTAFFZ in your tweet. Make sure the entire question or comment, including the hashtag, is 140 characters or less.
UTA will hold its public hearing on the removal of buses from the Free Fare Zone on Thursday, June 21 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at its offices at 669 W. 200 S. in Salt Lake City. Public comment will be accepted at the hearing or via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling UTA Customer Service at 801-287-2667. Comments will be accepted until June 26, 2012.
Note: Comments posted to this blog post are not part of the official comment and will not be recorded with the public record. If you want to submit an official comment please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 801-287-2667.