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Knowlton: The FrontRunner blues

Published December 6, 2012 5:04 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Transit Authority promises progress. Its extension of FrontRunner rail service into Utah County, due to open Monday, seems like proof that it gives what it promises.

For years colleagues who make the daily commute from the Salt Lake Valley to Orem have asked hopefully, "Do you know when FrontRunner will finally start?" The new train promised greater ease in commuting and people hoped it would cut the time required to get to and from work.

In the aggregate, FrontRunner will make a big difference. It will make an hourly run from Salt Lake's Central Station to Provo, with stops along the way in Murray, Sandy, American Fork and Orem. The trip from end to end will take 55 minutes, not significantly longer than it takes to drive the route.

This would seem a boon. But if the schedule does not allow people to get to work close to their starting time, or if it involves untimely transfers to buses, then FrontRunner could prove a debacle.

Such is the case for the students and faculty of Utah Valley University who currently rely on UTA buses to arrive on campus for 9 a.m. classes. They can take either the 7:48 a.m. express bus from Sandy, or the 8:02, and arrive in ample time for class.

But that is due to change Monday, the day FrontRunner makes its first run to Provo. Instead, these UVU commuters will have to leave home nearly an hour earlier, and will have close to an hour to kill before class. In short, counting the time spent waiting for the bell to ring for class, their commute time will easily double.

With the more efficient express bus no longer running, the only alternative to the train will be to drive.

This is not what UTA promised. Yet it is what will happen on Monday, because FrontRunner offers service every half hour before 7:07 a.m., but only every hour after that. The absence of a 7:30 train, and the fact that the 8:07 a.m. train — which requires taking a bus from the train station to campus — will not get passengers to UVU until 9:10 a.m., makes the morning commute unworkable.

If we faculty and students were the only ones impacted, there would be little reason to write this op-ed and be accused of special pleading. But, as a loyal UTA rider, I have seen these inefficiencies increase and have heard many people complain about how difficult UTA, with its so-called "progress," can make it for riders to get to work once they have come to rely on mass transit.

UTA seems unwilling to take into account the large bodies of users from major institutions, such as UVU, and to plan its schedules to enable them to commute efficiently. This is not progress, but a huge step backward.

I deeply regret that I have to start using my car to commute after four years of relying on mass transit to get me from Salt Lake County to Utah County and back again. Count me and many of my colleagues among those commuters who feel they have been lied to.

David Knowlton is a professor of anthropology at Utah Valley University and a dedicated rider of public transit. He lives in Midvale.