Or was it?
The new route connecting the resort city on the Wasatch Back to Utah's capital ran just 38 percent of capacity during its best month, far from the 90 percent capacity ridership that would be the break-even number.
Nevertheless, a relatively low-cost mode of travel through Parleys Canyon with the potential to cut air pollution and reduce car trips on the weather-challenged highway should not be abandoned. Rather, the first year should provide lessons for transit officials and a foundation for a better system next year. This past winter was a bit of an anomaly, because the lack of snow discouraged both local skiers and visitors.
Commuters and those who regularly drive the canyon to enjoy the attractions at either end were not fully aware of what the service provides, including benefits to the environment that should appeal to the liberal-leaning Parkites who work in Salt Lake Valley.
We have several suggestions. First, Utah Transit Authority should use smaller buses instead of the 40-passenger motor coaches assigned to this fledgling route. It seems UTA set the new route up for failure if success is measured in percentage of capacity. Only January, the peak month for skiers, saw the ridership that might eventually justify using the large buses. Also, during ski season from December through April, 17 trips a day were offered between the cities. Since then, eight trips a day have been scheduled, which seems more reasonable.
The service is not cheap. A ride costs $5.50 each way, while a one-way fare on Salt Lake Valley buses and TRAX is $2.35. Riders on the Park City to Salt Lake City route also can purchase a three-day pass for $33 or pay $242 for a 30-day pass. An adult monthly pass on the Salt Lake system is $78.50.
UTA provides buses and operates the route, but the service is a partnership with Summit County and Park City. Those local governments agreed to subsidize the operation by up to $470,000 in the first year. After that, UTA has agreed to subsidies of up to $180,000. The UTA buses connect with the Park City transit, which is a no-fare system.
We believe, if UTA and the cities market the service properly and cut costs until ridership grows, the route eventually could require smaller subsidies and move closer to the elusive break-even point. The advantages for skiers and tourists are obvious, but UTA should better advertise the benefits to commuters of leaving the automobile home.