As life along the Wasatch Front changes, public transportation needs change as well. Communities that could be served by bus alone a few years ago have grown and are now better accessed by higher speed trains with greater capacity and more frequency. Desire for cleaner air and less crowded roads has led to the current expansion of four new TRAX lines and the FrontRunner extension to Provo.
Ridership on UTA is the highest it’s ever been, increasing 3 percent in 2012 and reaching an all-time high of almost 43 million boardings. TRAX ridership alone increased by 14 percent last year. UTA’s ridership is making an impact on Utah’s two largest traffic generators, carrying more than 25 percent of all worker trips into downtown Salt Lake City and 35 percent of trips to the University of Utah. In total, more than 250 million passenger miles were reduced on Utah’s roads last year by people who chose to ride UTA.
So far in 2013 ridership has remained steady, as major system changes have taken place the past several months. The FrontRunner extension to Provo opened last December, and has carried as many as 16,000 weekday boardings. In February, UTA increased FrontRunner service and adjusted the schedule to improve reliability and connections to TRAX and bus. The Airport TRAX line opened in April, giving Wasatch Front residents convenient rail access to Salt Lake International Airport. The new TRAX and FrontRunner lines have opened more than two years ahead of schedule, changing original ridership projections. While these changes are positive, it takes time for riders to adjust to a new bus and rail network.
As the rail projects in the FrontLines 2015 program have been completed, our public transportation system has been experiencing a period of unprecedented growth and change. Bus ridership has been affected as routes and schedules have been adjusted and many riders make the switch from bus to train. Other changes to bus and rail service have been made in recent years due to the recession. UTA discontinued peak-hour only express bus routes, replacing them with all-day FrontRunner service that spans 90 miles of the Wasatch Front and will provide greater access and capacity for decades to come.
The data show that public transit trips along the Wasatch Front are increasing while vehicle miles per capita have been declining over the past decade. In addition, UTA’s ridership held steady in the first quarter of 2013 while the American Public Transportation Association reports that transit ridership across the nation fell by approximately 2 percent.
UTA is poised for future growth as the rail expansion wraps up this year with the opening of the Draper TRAX line in August. In December, service will begin on the Sugar House streetcar line, the first project of its kind in Utah. As the FrontLines 2015 program concludes and the economy improves, UTA is focused on improving connections and increasing service. FrontRunner service was increased in February, and an increase to hourly service on Saturday will begin in August. In response to improved sales tax revenues, which funds almost 70 percent of UTA’s operating budget, the agency has also preserved more than $1.5 million in bus service so far this year.
UTA appreciates our riders’ support throughout this exciting and dynamic time. Ridership is strong, and our new, expanded public transportation system will help make the Wasatch Front one of the most progressive and economically vibrant communities in the Intermountain West. We look forward to continuing to serve the residents of the Wasatch Front by providing them with an integrated system of innovative, accessible and efficient public transportation.