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(Steve Griffin | Tribune File Photo) Mayor Ralph Becker announces the Hive Pass as part of a new air quality initiative during a press conference near the 900 East TRAX station in Salt Lake City Friday, October 4, 2013. The Hive Pass had lower sales than expected by July, but Salt Lake officials say the program was still selling a brisk 500 passes per month.
UTA’s Hive Pass is still alive, Salt Lake officials say
Transit » Sales of the reduced-rate pass will increase with marketing, they say.
First Published Jul 07 2014 04:16 pm • Last Updated Jul 07 2014 10:35 pm

Sales of the so-called Hive mass transit passes are short of what Salt Lake City and the Utah Transit Authority had hoped. So, what went wrong?

About 2,000 of 6,000 steeply discounted passes have been purchased. But, as a spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker pointed out, the program is only four months old — that’s equivalent to 500 passes sold per month.

At a glance

Trib Talk

Sales of an all-season transit pass in Salt Lake City have been underwhelming, a fact that has caught the attention of the Utah Transit Authority and city leaders.

On Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond, Bill Tibbitts, of Crossroads Urban Center, and Tribune reporter Lee Davidson join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to talk about the future of the Hive Pass and what it will take to get more Utahns on buses and trains.

You can watch this online video chat at sltrib.com. You can also join the discussion by sending questions and comments to the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+ or texting 801-609-8059.

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Hopes were high on a brisk day last October when municipal and transit officials gathered near a TRAX line for a big announcement — Salt Lake City residents could buy a Hive pass accepted on all UTA mass transit lines for $30 a month.

Compared to the usual $198 a month, it seemed too good to be true. Annually, the $360 cost is a fraction of the $2,376 that would allow for unrestricted travel on FrontRunner, TRAX, the Sugar House Streetcar and UTA buses.

It was such a hot deal that clean air and mass-transit enthusiasts could only imagine how many that Salt Lake City might sell to residents in the first-of-its-kind project in Utah. Initially the city could sell 6,000 — the break-even point for UTA. And if that wasn’t enough, the municipality could order more.

Becker and UTA General Manager Michael Allegra hailed it as a new day for diminished traffic and cleaner air.

The Hive program was launched March 1, after administrative details were worked out by Salt Lake City, which normally does not sell transit passes.

Then, reality set in.

Last week, grumblings from UTA came to light that signaled disappointment and even failure of the plan.

The pilot project faces an Aug. 31 reckoning day. However, Salt Lake City officials aren’t ready to concede failure and already have asked UTA for an extension to Dec. 31.

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Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said Monday the city must pick up its marketing efforts if Hive is to thrive.

"The easiest fix is marketing," he said. "That’s one area the city actually has control over."

Although the council set aside $30,000 for marketing for the fiscal year that began July 1, LaMalfa wondered whether it would be enough.

"The rule of thumb is that 10 percent of your budget goes to marketing," he said. "We aren’t even close to spending that on communication."

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall agreed that marketing has not been strong enough. She would like to see the Becker administration use all types of advertising, from social media to bus boards. "It would make sense to me that we would use the buses in our neighborhoods to advertise Hive," she said.

In something of a marketing endeavor last spring, the council held a contest to see where residents of the city’s seven council districts bought the most Hive passes. District 4, represented by Luke Garrott, won the contest. Not coincidentally, it’s the area with the most mass-transit options.

That, Garrott said, is far more important than marketing. Residents won’t buy a Hive Pass if mass transit isn’t convenient.

"We need to change the way we do things," Garrott said. "I’ve been a critic of UTA’s thin bus service in neighborhoods."

Despite shortcomings, four months is not long enough to judge whether Hive is a good program, he said. "Changing the transit culture will take a lot more than four months, that’s for sure," he said. "It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon."

The city has launched numerous marketing strategies for Hive, Transportation Director Robin Hutcheson said Monday. To date, some $30,000 has been spent on such things as direct mailings, presentations, media and social media. That effort will continue.

"It’s very important that we make people aware of the program," she said, "and give them compelling reasons to participate."

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