UTA Trax light rail at the U in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Apr. 6, 2017. (Rishi Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

Public Transit Saves the Planet

By Shaelyn Barber

Each winter, Utah’s infamous inversion hovers over the Salt Lake Valley, filling it with smog so dense it’s more edible than breathable. Utah is often hailed as an outdoor wonderland, but air within the valley stands contrary to this image. Last January, Fox 13 reported that Salt Lake City had the worst air quality of any city in the United States, above both Los Angeles and New York City. The inversion has been a topic of concern in Utah for years as residents and legislature struggle with how to address the problem. Although Utah’s air quality has been improving, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), the inversion is still a cause for concern.

Many limit their time outside in the filthy air, worried that it could affect their health; and they’re right. Utah’s toxic air comes with a variety of health risks. These can include neurodegenerative diseases, pregnancy complications and may even shorten a person’s life by approximately two years, according to KUTV.

During winter, people tend to drive instead of walk or take public transportation. The weather gets cold and people don’t want to be outside in freezing temperatures. Driving is typically convenient and saves time in comparison to public transit routes. There is a belief that being inside a car will protect people from the toxic air. By driving a car every day, however, you could be doing more harm than good. Vehicles contribute to 57 percent of the pollution that accumulates in the winter months, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The University of Utah is a commuter campus, meaning that most students commute to and from class every day instead of living in the residence halls. According to Forbes, 31,592 students currently attend the U, but student housing only has the capacity for around 3,500 students. This means that up to 28,092 students are commuting to campus. Although some walk or take public transit, there is still a significant number of people who drive to school. One only needs to take to the streets around 8 or 9 in the morning to observe the enormous rush of cars on their way to class.

As residents of Utah, university students should be doing their part to cut down on pollution that contributes to inversion in the Salt Lake Valley. As a commuting population, university traffic is a significant factor in putting pollutants and greenhouse gases into the air.

Public transit may not be the most convenient and cold weather may be a deterrent, but by taking public transportation to school instead of driving, students cut down their negative environmental impact. This helps to minimize unhealthy conditions our state faces when inversion sets in, as well as save the environment and beautiful outdoors Utah is well known for. If more students chose public transit over driving, inversion in the Salt Lake Valley would decrease and make the city safer and healthier for its citizens.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

@TheChrony

 

UTA Has a Ways to Go

By Paul Braden

It’s an early morning on a cold Monday in January, and the Red Line to the University of Utah is late, again. You arrived 10 minutes early to ensure a timely arrival to school. You skipped breakfast thinking you would have time to grab something from the cafeteria before class, but the train is nowhere in sight. Perhaps the snowfall from the night before is responsible or maybe there was an accident preventing your hope of punctuality. You finally concede that maybe your ride won’t arrive.

For the environmentally conscious, gas-saving commuters, a cumulative series of missed connections and late departures has caused many transit users to turn a critical eye towards the Utah Transit Authority, and seek alternative ways to reach campus. Wherever you live in the Salt Lake Valley and whatever your reasons for commuting, you’ve likely experienced something similiar.

Compared to other cities I have lived in, Salt Lake public transit’s general efficacy, safety, dependability and limited zone of service leaves much to be desired.

UTA’s light rail system, better known as TRAX, frequently makes local headlines for safety incidents involving collisions with cars and pedestrians. Between 2007 and 2010, TRAX was involved in 94 accidents. Of these, 84 people suffered injuries, and according to the Federal Railroad Administration, nine people lost their lives. These statistics don’t appear to be a departure from what might be expected, but a comparison to other light rail systems in the United States provides a puzzling revelation.

TRAX serves riders across 40 miles of track. Colorado’s largest light rail system serves commuters over 70 miles and only has a reported 22 safety incidents and three deaths in the same three-year period.

While UTA’s service is expanding, late arrivals and tendencies to halt service for menial interruptions have seen little improvement.

If worrying about possible safety concerns or missed connections wasn’t enough to deter one from using UTA, consequences for accidental misuse of the tap on/off requirement might push a consumer over the edge. The issue here isn’t the simple obligation; it takes no more than a few seconds to wave pass over the scanner before and after entering the bus or train. Problems with broken scanners and outrageous fines for unintended non-compliance are the true hindrances. Despite having a purchased TRAX pass, failure to comply with the tap system still results in a cruel fine.

After being ticketed for this offense last year, I assured the officer I scanned my card and presented my identification to prove I was the owner of the pass. This explanation went unheard, and I was advised that if I failed to pay the large fine and continued to utilize UTA services, I could be charged with trespassing.

The importance of this system is immense for budgeting purposes and for logging number of riders and average distance traveled, but the citations imposed on paying customers for neglecting to comply, in many cases because of inoperable facilities, is baseless and regressive.

An argument could be made in the defense, asserting that UTA’s relatively recent operational debut (founded in 1999), might explain its safety problems and poor operational efficiency, but a step towards institutional improvement must be the objective.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

@TheChrony

Shaelyn is a fourth year at the University of Utah studying Political Science and Journalism in the hopes that someday she can be a travel writer. She is especially passionate about social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, and mental health awareness. In her (very rare) free time she loves to hike, paint, and read.

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