(Photo by Cole Tan)
Last Thursday’s Wasatch Front Regional Council heard a total of five public comments in one day, more than they’ve ever heard in the span of 24 hours.
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The comments they received focused on the adoption of the Wasatch Front Urban Area Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), a policy report that will guide Utah’s transportation development through 2040. The document is currently a draft and will be adopted on May 28.
According to research by the Utah Foundation, the state’s three million inhabitants will double by 2050. This growth is expected mostly in urban areas, and RTP says this requires a continued investment in public transit.
However, commenters at the Regional Council’s meeting are worried that UTA will not increase service hours or frequency of transit. Deb Henry, representative of the Utah Transit Riders Union, said it’s not the first time they’ve heard these concerns.
“From everyone we hear, ‘If there were more hours, I would ride transit … I could spend more money in our local communities,’” Henry said. “We need a binding transit plan to ensure the people who are willing to take transit, and who rely on transit, can.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams agreed with the idea of supporting services to the public.
“We’re going to have a conversation [on transit], at least in Salt Lake County, with revenue from new legislative session money, and … focus on improving service,” McAdams said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said improving hours of operation and frequency of services is the number one priority. However, Becker said funding for future public transit projects, per RTP, will come from House Bill 362, the new state gas tax. This puts one-tenth of every cent generated toward public transit.
“The problem is, one-tenth of a cent isn’t going to meet all of our needs,” Becker said. “On behalf of SLC, we will look to use some of our resources to try and increase what the transit service can be in our city … we’ll need to prioritize with limited funds.”
Henry said the funding model is why UTA has limited ride times.
“From 1996 to 2014, we spent $4.7 billion in infrastructure — but we don’t have [the] span of service that creates a culture of transit,” Henry said. “We need to give people span of service so they can change their habits willingly.”
George Chapman, one of the commenters, says this is particularly important for U students and employees.
“The U is a destination [and] a big employer. Lots of cars are at the university because there’s not enough service,” Chapman said. “Transfers take too long, leaving students with long waits.”
However, students like Drew Flathers, a sophomore in parks, recreation and tourism, can get to class 15 to 20 minutes early when taking public transit. The problems happen on the weekends.
“There have been a few times that I have wanted to go to events that are past the time that TRAX runs,” Flathers said.
However, Flathers has a car — getting around late is possible without public transit. For Anton Nielsen, a sophomore in entertainment and arts engineering, commuting to Sandy is difficult when TRAX has early night closing.
“I would prefer to drive or get a ride in the end, but it can be hard to call someone to pick you up at later hours in the night,” Nielsen said.
The U is UTA’s largest partner, and nearly 30 percent of U students use public transit. Chapman and Henry encouraged students to use their voice and to advocate for change that could affect the next 25 years of development.
The full Regional Transportation Plan draft can be viewed on the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s website.