Striking a balance by offering your product at prices that are low enough to attract customers but high enough to keep the doors open is a quandary that is common to most businesses.
Those that cannot find that equilibrium are likely to fail. And, in most cases, that’s just the way of the world.
But when it comes to a public transit system, especially one that operates in a valley that has severe air quality problems, it isn’t just the operation’s managers and employees — or even its customers — who have an interest in finding that balance and seeing the business thrive.
Every person who draws a breath in the Salt Lake Valley has an interest in the success of the Utah Transit Authority. That public agency’s ability to attract passengers who will willingly, even happily, give up the freedom of their own automobiles and use buses and trains for their daily commutes and other trips is key to reducing the vehicle emissions that are the source of the majority of our air pollution.
That is why a proposal put forward by state Rep. Joel Briscoe to allow UTA communities to raise their self-imposed UTA sales tax from some 0.6 cents to a full penny on the dollar is an idea that has great merit. And that is why it is good news that the annual budget approved this week by the UTA board anticipates a restoration of many curtailed bus routes with no increase in passenger fares.
There are, indeed, compelling arguments to be made that the state should crack down more on industrial sources of air pollution. Those emissions can be particularly noxious in their severity, even if they seem puny in their quantity versus auto exhausts.
But this is not an either/or situation. Even if all of the valley’s refineries, factories and mines disappeared tomorrow, the particularly unfortunate combination of a growing number of cars buzzing around a valley subject to frequent atmospheric inversions does not offer a sustainable future.
The UTA, the riders and the communities it serves, and the state, need to be more aggressive in not just building a railroad and making it run, but in making transit service attractive by making it both convenient and affordable. That means the steps the agency is already taking, such as expanded bus service and operating more natural gas-powered vehicles, as well as more attractive pricing structures.
Just holding the line on rates that had been climbing rapidly over the years helps. Cutting them, by offering distance-based pricing, boosting sales tax support and offering sharp frequent-rider discounts, would be even better.
We need to fill those buses and trains, for everyone’s sake.
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