As the UTA focuses more on trains and less on buses, the capital city and its residents continue to be shortchanged on transportation options. And, given limited revenue to run the UTA, that reality is not about to change anytime soon.
So it's important that Salt Lake City leaders look at other ways to meet their constituents' needs for transit options for getting to jobs, shopping, medical clinics and other places they need to go. The possibilities include more city bus routes, streetcars and other citywide circulator systems.
The City Council should consider forming a city transit system, similar to those in Cache Valley and Park City, which are both fare-free.
Affordable, efficient public transit in the capital is necessary for a number of reasons.
The poor air quality in the city and the rest of the Salt Lake Valley makes it imperative that residents leave their cars in the garage as much as possible. Low-income and disabled residents, who cannot drive or do not own cars, need a reliable transportation system to help them get around the city. And UTA is not focusing on those people.
UTA's focus is long-distance commuter train traffic. And while TRAX and FrontRunner are vital links in a valley-wide transit system that helps reduce traffic and air pollution, more and better-planned bus routes within the capital city are even more important to many Salt Lake City residents.
Trains and buses have different roles. Trains connect communities throughout the valley and bring university students and suburban residents to downtown destinations; buses reduce city traffic and vehicle emissions and improve the quality of life in the capital.
Salt Lake City is unique among Utah communities. In its role as the government and financial hub, Salt Lake attracts 180,000 people downtown every weekday, doubling the population. That translates into traffic snarls and dirtier air for everyone. While TRAX and FrontRunner trains help reduce the number of cars entering the city, they don't do much to help people maneuver once they arrive. UTA has reduced bus routes in the city as it builds and operates the trains.
The goal should be affordable, or better yet, free fares; buses, trolleys and streetcars that run often and reliably; and transit options that allow residents to go anywhere in the city during most times of the day and night.
Those are lofty goals, and they'll take time, study and money. The city's transit master plan due for completion in 2015 should include possible funding mechanisms for a system that does not rely on UTA.