A transit leader gets even better

When you think of those North American cities that are leading the way on transit, New York, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco in the U.S. may come to mind, or you may think of Canadian cities such as Montréal, Toronto, or Vancouver. Yet one relatively small metro area in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is showing that you don’t have to be a large, top-tier global city to have great transit. Salt Lake City, which also happens to be the capital of one of the most conservative states in the nation, opened its first 19-mile (30-kilometer) light-rail line in 1999. Since then, UTA TRAX has expanded to 45 miles (72 kilometers) of track serving 50 stations and over 60,000 riders a day. It is complemented by an 88-mile (142-kilometer) commuter-rail system that provides all-day service on weekdays and weekends (something many other commuter-rail systems around North America lack) and a comprehensive bus system serving 80,000 passengers a day in a 1,600-square-mile (4,100-square-kilometer) area over 6 counties. Expansion continues, with a streetcar line, the S line, set to open in December, connecting the Sugar House district with the regional light-rail system. All told, more than 150,000 passengers a day rely on UTA’s services, and it is transforming Salt Lake into a walkable, transit-oriented urban region well positioned for the economic and environmental challenges of the future.

And it’s getting even better. On Friday, 4 October, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker joined UTA’s general manager, Michael Allegra, to announce a new transit pass that will be available to residents for $30 a month, or just $360 a year for access to the entire UTA system, including buses, light rail, commuter rail, and the new streetcar. The passes normally cost $198 a month. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Christopher Smart reports:

“This is a great effort to improve the air quality in Salt Lake City,” Becker said. “This is a first of its kind in the country. Every citizen in Salt Lake City will have access to this program.”

The program will cost the city about $150,000 to administer. UTA will sell the passes to the city for $360 — the same price the municipality will charge residents.

Participants can pay monthly with their Salt Lake City water bills. For the time being, renters will have to pay the full $360 upfront, although Robin Hutcheson, director of transportation, said the city is working toward a mechanism by which residents who don’t receive a water bill can pay monthly.

Others quoted by the article note that such a program could be a true game changer for transit in Salt Lake. “A $30 a month pass is the kind of incentive that will change [people’s] behavior,” stated Roger Borgenicht of Utahns for Better Transportation.

And if other cities followed Salt Lake’s lead, such a program could be a game changer for transit and sustainable urban planning across the country. Rather than round after round of transit cuts and fare hikes—even in some of those transit “leaders” I mentioned above—we need to be encouraging Americans to get out of their cars and on to their feet, and in buses and trains. Salt Lake may be small and remote, but its leaders realize that its true economic competition is not just other cities in the U.S. and Canada but cities around the globe—urban areas moving forward with the types of investments that will make them livable, equitable, sustainable, and economically vibrant in the long term.

Read more
“Becker plans to offer cheap train, bus passes to Salt Lakers” by Christopher Smart
The Salt Lake Tribune, Friday, 4 October 2013

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