Most public hearings held by the Utah Transit Authority attract just a few people. Some, such as on the agency’s budget, drew no residents.
Even contentious hearings — such as one last month about UTA expanding into Morgan County — bring only about 50.
But UTA rider Alex Cragun has managed to persuade more than 1,700 people, as of Friday afternoon, to sign an online petition asking the agency to restore and expand late-night bus and train service.
“I was quite surprised. People are pretty passionate,” he said of his petition on MoveOn.org. He hopes for 3,000 signatures and plans to present his petition at a UTA Board meeting later this month.
Cragun, 26, of Taylorsville, said he became dependent on UTA about two years ago when his car died. He could afford only older cars that tended to need a lot of repairs, so he decided to take UTA instead. He says he likes its service, but it has one major problem: Buses and trains stop too early.
“I’ve made that mistake of missing the last bus and then having to walk an hour and a half to my house,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called cabs for people because they can’t afford to get home” after being surprised that UTA ends much of its service early.
UTA cut much of its late-night service when the recession hit and ridership dropped. That happened at the same time that the agency had just started several new rail projects and had to find a way to cut costs to keep those projects going. Late-night and weekend service were among the cuts.
“We’re glad that people are interested in more service,” UTA spokesman Remi Barron said about the online petition. However, he said, “we’ve also heard from people who want more weekend service or midday service. Now we need to look at how best to distribute our resources.”
As the economy has recovered and rail projects were finished, Barron said, UTA has been able to start adding back some extra bus service.
The agency supported a bill in the Legislature to allow elections to raise local sales taxes to help fund restoration and expansion of bus routes. But the bill died as lawmakers adjourned in March. The measure is expected to be introduced again next year.
Cragun says this is his first-ever online petition, motivated by his desire to return to times he remembers as a teenager when buses were available once an hour until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. “I don’t care how frequent it is, I just want to see late-night service so people have an opportunity to get home — people with late-night shifts, etc.”
His petition says many low-income people work late shifts and do not have needed UTA service. Late buses, it argues, would help reduce drunken driving by allowing transit use until after bars close and encourage more people to use transit for evening entertainment.
Many people who signed the petition added comments to it.
Jessica King wrote that she and her husband did not realize that the last outbound TRAX trains in the evening went only to the Central Pointe Station at 2100 South — and they had parked in Murray.
They paid $45 for a taxi to their car. “From then on, we decided it’s cheaper to drive if we want a night on the town.”
Raymond Munoz wrote that “the nighttime hours are useless” now on UTA, and its schedules are not designed for anyone “other than the 9-5 commuter.”
Ogden resident Amber Liddle wrote, “People who work [graveyard shifts] need transportation.”
“I would like to actually use UTA to help the environment,” wrote Diana Winkfield of West Jordan. “However, UTA’s schedule doesn’t usually allow for this.”
Provo resident Ryan Moore wrote, “I would buy a monthly pass if the hours were extended.”