Now that the Utah Transit Authority has proven itself as one of the nation's most expensive options for commuters, it seemed appropriate to compare my cost and time of driving to work versus UTA's bus and train.
My house is about 8 or so miles from The Salt Lake Tribune newsroom if I take the freeway, and a bit farther if I go cross town. So I logged on to UTA's website http://www.rideuta.com to learn if it would be cheaper and more convenient to take mass transit rather than driving my compact 2012 sedan.
Well, the first thing that went wrong is the website didn't recognize my home address or office address. I tried several times, only to get this notice: "There were errors in the information you provided. Please correct and resubmit."
So I tried again.
A colleague tried it, too, only to get the same message and a note saying his address "could not be located in our system â¦ make sure to include the correct city with the address."
Now, my house in Salt Lake City was built in the late 1950s. His house in Taylorsville is about 25 years old. We both know the cities we live in. What gives?
So I called UTA's customer service department and got a calm, competent woman who guided me through how to get to work on the bus. First, pay $2.50 to take the No. 4 bus from about 2100 South and 1900 East west to the Central Pointe TRAX Station on about 200 West. (Be sure to get a transfer ticket.) Then take the train to 150 South 400 West, and it's a one-minute walk to the front door.
But, the trip takes an average of 44 minutes. When I drive by freeway and surface streets from my home, it's about 15 minutes max. And, given my car's mileage, I pay about one buck for gas each way.
It takes my Taylorsville colleague about 20 minutes to drive to work, and an hour or more by bus and train. (He does like the time for reading books.) But when he goes home in the evening, buses are so scarce, he needs a ride from the TRAX station to his home.
I asked the customer service rep about the online problem, and she said, "Oh, I've had about three calls on that just today, and I've reported it."
Getting back to the cost of transit here in the Salt Lake Valley, the $2.50 one-way bus/TRAX fare is, according to a nationwide survey, lower only than fares in New York City; San Francisco; Nashville, Tenn.; Sugar Land, Texas; and Eden Prairie, Minn.
It's illuminating to note that the top 10 UTA executives, together, make about $2.15 million in salary and benefits.
So, to pencil out the transit vs. sedan question, I save time and money when I drive my energy-efficient car.
If I were to commute, I'd lose roughly an hour a day although I could get some more reading done.
My car also does pretty well on greenhouse emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, but about average on its contribution to Utah smog.
I do worry about the people whose only transportation resources are buses or trains, given the combination of cost, time and spotty service.
Forget moving the Utah State Prison, and forget the federal land grab. Remember smog and congestion.
Utah lawmakers and elected officials should give the same time, energy and multimillions of dollars to improve mass transit in a state that desperately needs it.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @Peg McEntee.