Long-distance commuters need mass transit increase

By By Stephanie Warnick

By Stephanie Warnick

Public transportation in Salt Lake City is incredibly frustrating to use. I made an honest attempt to give up my car this spring when I took a job at the Marriott Library. I was doing everything in my power not to buy a parking pass, so I hopped onto UTA’s website to see what my alternatives were. The closest TRAX station is 17 blocks from my house, so that option was out. Although there’s a bus stop three houses down from where I live, the closest place a route to the U would pick me up is two blocks south and two blocks west.

That’s not a huge deal, but this was March; it was still snowing and the idea of negotiating my way down the steep hill between 1400 E. and 1300 E. wasn’t appealing. Then the news got worse. If I missed my bus, I’d have to wait 30 minutes for the next one, which would cause me to be late to work. And the clincher: The cost of a one-month bus pass was the exact same price as a half-semester U Permit, $67. (I wasn’t a student at the time and didn’t qualify for the free UTA pass.) Guess which one I ended up buying.

I’ve been to cities with much more efficient transit systems, and I always leave green with envy. I flew to Portland last year and paid $2.50 to hop right on a train that took me from the airport to the downtown area where a system of efficient trolleys put me within a block of my destination. That’s an arrangement I would utilize every day if Salt Lake City were so equipped. When I studied abroad in England, I could walk up to any bus stop and know I’d have a ride within five minutes. And this was not in a major metropolitan city, but a small university town. And the trains! Oh, the trains! You could take a short bus ride to the train station and be in London in 40 minutes. I can’t imagine how confused foreigners must feel upon touching down at our airport. “How do you get into the city?” Wait an hour for a bus or pay $40 for a cab. As it stands, those are the options.

Although UTA does deserve some credit for producing TRAX and running it efficiently in 15-minute intervals, they’ve got a long way to go until the system effectively serves more than just the homes within a few blocks of 400 S. Salt Lake City needs a trolley system that branches into neighborhoods and brings commuters to the TRAX stations. Buses need to come at least every 10 or 15 minutes, so that if someone misses their ride by a few seconds, they haven’t completely ruined their chances for a punctual arrival at their destination.

Fortunately, staff members of our university are sympathetic to these frustrations. Jen Colby, sustainability coordinator, encourages students to get involved in city policy.

“Locally, previous student activism when UTA proposed drastic cuts to bus service two or three years ago led to restoration of many routes to the U, such as the 220 and 228,” Colby said. “I highly recommend (that students) look for like-minded citizens and get engaged in promoting change. Consider attending a UTA board meeting, or making a comment during the open mic time at a city council meeting with your opinions.”

Furthermore, many people on campus are looking into alternative forms of transit. The Green Committee is hosting a Transportation Fair on Sept. 1 at the Marriott Library to “teach everyone about all the new ways to commute in the valley and on campus,” said Daureen Nesdill, the committee’s coordinator. “Salt Lake is establishing a U Car Share. People can rely on public transportation for daily trips to work, but when a car is need(ed) for extra shopping, visiting, etc., at times when public transportation is not convenient, then U Car Share fills in this gap.”

With enough student awareness and support at fairs such as the Green Committee’s, as well as city council meetings, Salt Lake City could one day have the kind of highly efficient public transit system that makes owning a car seem superfluous. With the thought of winter inversions just around the corner, that’s a goal we should all get on board with.