Flying red eye? TRAX no help
By Lee Davidson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 17 2013 09:50PM
The new $350 million airport TRAX line will not operate early enough to deliver passengers to some early-morning flights — and will close before it can take home people from several late-night arrivals.
The problem will be worse on weekends, when the new TRAX route will have an even shorter schedule.
"That’s what we have available budget to operate," said Gerry Carpenter, spokesman for the Utah Transit Authority. He notes that UTA now receives about $80 million less in sales tax than it had projected for 2013 when the line was planned before the recession hit. About 80 percent of transit revenue comes from sales tax.
The problem surfaced at a series of public meetings this week during which UTA officials unveiled and took comment on several service changes scheduled for April 14 — when the TRAX airport extension will open as part of the green line to West Valley City.
Carpenter said plans call for the new airport spur to operate the same hours as other TRAX lines. That means the first weekday TRAX train from end-of-the-line stations would reach Salt Lake City International Airport a bit before 6 a.m.
Airlines suggest that passengers arrive at least an hour before domestic flights depart — so TRAX could serve passengers on flights scheduled only after about 7 a.m. That means the first TRAX train would be too late for about five flights on weekdays, although airline schedules vary day to day.
On Saturdays, the first train from end-of-the-line stations is penciled in to arrive at the airport around 7:10 a.m. — too late for suggested arrival times for about two dozen flights. On Sundays, the first such train is planned to arrive about 9:10 a.m. — too late for about four dozen flights.
Late-night arrivals face similar problems.
On weekdays, current plans call for the last TRAX train that would travel to the end of the line to leave around 10:30 p.m. Eleven flights currently arrive at that time or later. A couple of others arrive within a half-hour earlier, making it a close call to deplane, get luggage and catch a train.
On Saturdays, the last train to depart to the end of the line would be around 11:10 p.m., a little later than weekdays — but still too late for about eight planes.
On Sundays, the last such train is planned for around 8 p.m., too late to take on passengers from about three dozen flights.
The planned TRAX schedule also could pose transit obstacles for airport employees, who often arrive earlier and leave later than the traveling public.
Carpenter said schedules are not yet final, and UTA is taking public comment on its proposal through Jan. 25.
He adds that UTA has met several times with airport officials about UTA plans for operating hours, given its tight budget. "The airport has expressed interest in expanding operating hours, and we have agreed to consider them as future resources allow."
Carpenter said that all TRAX trains are now operating "a reduced schedule from what we ran prior to the recession," when it had late-night and extended weekend service — but the economic downturn forced cuts.
"As resources allow, we intend to restore service. And certainly the airport line would be one of the lines that we would consider for extended hours to meet both worker and traveler demand," he said. "But, ultimately, it is a function of available resources, and we don’t have resources available to run 24 hours a day."
While he says the economy has been recovering, he notes UTA is also operating new TRAX extensions to South Jordan and West Valley City, and a FrontRunner extension between Salt Lake City and Provo.
UTA is scheduled later this year to open a TRAX extension to Draper, and a new streetcar line in Sugar House.
Carpenter adds that the new TRAX line will offer vast improvement over current bus service to the airport — which begins later, ends earlier and is far less frequent than trains will be. "Of course, if there is a new light-rail line, people expect a greater level of service than they do with a bus."
UTA projects the new airport line to have 4,600 riders on weekdays.