Salt Lake City residents seeking mass transit will soon get a big lift when they’re offered Utah Transit Authority passes at a big discount — $360 per year, the equivalent of $30 per month.
Mayor Ralph Becker along with UTA General Manager Michael Allegra announced Friday that the passes — good on TRAX, FrontRunner, all UTA buses and the Sugar House Streetcar — will be available to all Salt Lake City residents. The passes normally sell for $198 month.
"This is a great effort to improve the air quality in Salt Lake City," Becker said. "This is a first of its kind in the country. Every citizen in Salt Lake City will have access to this program."
The program will cost the city about $150,000 to administer. UTA will sell the passes to the city for $360 — the same price the municipality will charge residents.
Participants can pay monthly with their Salt Lake City water bills. For the time being, renters will have to pay the full $360 upfront, although Robin Hutcheson, director of transportation, said the city is working toward a mechanism by which residents who don’t receive a water bill can pay monthly.
"A pass in the pocket makes it easier for residents to choose mass transit," Hutcheson said.
The plan, which must be approved by the City Council, would have the city buy 6,000 passes. But Becker said that more would be made available depending upon demand. The UTA deal is similar to others it offers to employers and institutions, such as the University of Utah.
Allegra said he hopes other Utah cities within UTA’s four-county service area will take a similar approach.
"This is a milestone," he said. "We’ve been working on this for a long, long time."
Roger Borgenicht of Utahns for Better Transportation added that the program makes mass transit affordable. "A $30 a month pass is the kind of incentive that will change [people’s] behavior," he said.
Getting people to drive less will help reduce air pollution, which damages people’s health and the economy, said Erin Mendenhall of Breathe Utah.
"Time and again our citizens say they want to make a difference," she said. "Today we have an answer to those residents who want to make a difference."
In an interview, Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa applauded the mayor for taking the initiative to make mass transit more available to the public.
LaMalfa said the proposal would benefit people who regularly ride UTA buses and rail. He added, however, that he also would like programs that aided the occasional transit passengers who may not wish to buy an annual pass.
The council will address the proposal at its regularly scheduled Tuesday afternoon work session, LaMalfa said. The earliest the council could vote on it would be Oct. 15.
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