In a July 22 opinion published in The Salt Lake Tribune ("Garrott: Keep free-fare zone"), Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott expressed concern about the Utah Transit Authority's request to modify the free-fare zone and the progress of public transportation in Salt Lake City.
UTA and Salt Lake City have enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership for more than 40 years. This partnership has been successful because of our willingness to work together. UTA is committed to this relationship and continues to work to help Salt Lake City achieve its goals.
For many years now, UTA and Salt Lake City have worked to improve downtown circulation. This has not been limited to bus and rail transit, but has included programs for bicycling, pedestrians, car-sharing, carpools, vanpools, and more.
The free-fare zone has been a critical part of that effort. In fact, the free-fare zone has expanded over the years. As part of our ongoing discussions, UTA recently requested a change to the free-fare zone on buses, because of the operational and security challenges it poses. Both the mayor's office and the business community expressed their support for this plan, which would keep TRAX free downtown.
UTA continues to work with Salt Lake City to make the transit system even better. We have delivered on many elements of the Downtown Rising plan. Despite the financial challenges of the recession, UTA has continued to expand. Two new TRAX lines opened last year, connecting West Valley and the southwest county to Salt Lake City.
FrontRunner from Provo will open this December. TRAX extensions to the airport and Draper will open next year. All will open ahead of schedule and under budget. We have also an unprecedented partnership with Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake on Utah's first modern streetcar to Sugar House, expected to open in December 2013. Each of these lines goes through Salt Lake City, improving service levels and connections for Salt Lake City residents and the Wasatch Front, and benefiting downtown circulation.
UTA ridership hit a record high in 2011 with 41 million boardings. While some poorly performing routes and trips were eliminated during the recession for greater efficiency, others have been added. The new route 2, which provides a direct connection from the Intermodal Hub to the University of Utah, has been so successful we have run extra trips to meet demand.
Ongoing efforts like this will improve east-west travel and circulation through the city, even though in some cases just like in any big city it may require a transfer. Overall, transit service in Salt Lake City has grown significantly.
Since 2002, the percentage of workers traveling into downtown on a UTA bus or train has increased 8 percent. Trips to the University of Utah have grown 19 percent; UTA now carries about a third of all commuters to the U every day. Sixty percent of all trips made on UTA begin or end in Salt Lake City. With more new service coming, the number of workers commuting to Salt Lake City on transit will continue to increase. We recognize that with more people riding transit into downtown, there will be a need to help them get around town as well.
UTA and Salt Lake City have an amazing partnership. Our relationship with the capital city and its business community is one of the best in the nation. A Salt Lake City integrally connected with the rest of the region is critical to the success of the Wasatch Front. Together, we can deliver a world-class transit system.
Michael Allegra is UTA's general manager.