The Utah Transit Authority had a different kind of public discussion Monday about its proposed 2012 budget 140 characters at a time through a Twitter chat.
UTA General Manager Michael Allegra fielded questions ranging from why UTA does not offer more night service to when free Wi-Fi Internet access will be available on more buses and trains to whether an envisioned switch to distance-based fares will increase costs for most riders.
UTA decided to hold the chat in addition to a traditional, formal hearing it has scheduled on its budget Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. at its headquarters, 699 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City.
When asked why UTA doesn't offer more late-night service, Allegra responded, "UTA ran late night service for 5 yrs. Low ridership. Due to economic recession, service was cut."
He was asked when Wi-Fi might be more widely available. It currently is available only on FrontRunner commuter trains and long-distance express buses such as those between Salt Lake City and Park City.
Allegra responded, "Priorities have started where trips are the longest. Wi-Fi on TRAX is being looked at as budgets allow."
Some asked about UTA plans to switch, over the next few years, to distance-based fares, instead of charging flat fares no matter how long trips are. That new system would also eliminate the current free-fare zone in downtown Salt Lake City.
"Our long range goal is to have an equitable distance-based fare. This will take a lot of public input and research," Allegra wrote.
Another question asked if that system will raise or lower fares for most riders. Allegra sidestepped that a bit, writing, "Some will pay less and some will pay more. Anticipate increase [overall]."
Some asked if UTA plans to restore direct TRAX service between the University of Utah and the downtown Salt Lake City transit hub, to pass such areas as Temple Square and The Gateway without transfers. That direct link ended in August when UTA opened its new West Valley City and Mid-Jordan TRAX extensions.
"That was a budget decision, we are looking for additional $$ in order to bring it back," Allegra wrote. He added, "There is excellent bus service between the hub & the U."
UTA is proposing a 2012 budget that includes $199.1 million in annual operating expenses. It expects revenues from passenger fares to jump by 20 percent next year. That comes partly from higher projected ridership on new TRAX lines and from a planned fare increase in May approved earlier this year to boost the base from $2.24 to $2.35.
The budget also includes $19.3 million to start building a Sugar House streetcar line in the spring and $273 million to continue construction of new TRAX routes to Salt Lake City International Airport and Draper, and extending the FrontRunner commuter rail from Salt Lake City to Provo.