Coronavirus stalls UTA efforts to simplify fares

(Photo courtesy of UTA) A UTA fare enforcement surge on October 21, 2017.

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The Utah Transit Authority is just about ready to go public with a first phase of proposals to rework its complicated fare system, except for one big problem: it can’t hold the required public hearings because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“Typically, we have about a 30-day comment period with the typical public hearings and open houses for people to come and ask questions. We also accept comments via our website, email, phone and snail mail,” UTA Chief Communications Officer Andrea Packer told the agency’s board on Wednesday.

“That is on hold until we determine that it is socially appropriate to be out in the public” after coronavirus gathering restrictions are lifted, Packer said. So fare changes that the agency had aimed to enact by this fall may be indefinitely delayed.

UTA is looking at overhauling and simplifying its fare system that has become a complicated patchwork quilt of at least 74 levels of discounts, promotions and negotiated deals.

It is so complicated that the agency recently said in response to an open records request by The Salt Lake Tribune that it has no idea how many of its tens of millions of passenger rides each year are free or discounted, and how many people pay the full $2.50 cash fare for a one-way trip.

The UTA Board on Wednesday discussed portions of its proposed first round of changes, including using multiples of the base cash fare of $2.50 for other fares.

For example, a day pass would cost twice the base fare ($5); a monthly pass would cost 34 times the base ($85); and the cost of a premium fare that includes ski and express bus service would be twice the base rate ($5). No changes are now proposed for FrontRunner service.

UTA Fares Director Monica Morton also wants the discount for using the agency’s electronic FAREPAY cards to be a standard 20% for buses and trains instead of current discounts that vary or do not exist for some types of service.

A wide variety of other discounts would also be combined and standardized.

Some discounts for low-income people — which range from 25% to 50% now — would turn into one type of discount for 50%. Youth, senior citizens and the disabled would receive 50% discounts.

Morton said some type of fare payments and offerings would be discontinued or replaced.

For example, a regular round-trip ticket would be replaced with a day pass. Tokens would be discontinued and replaced with electronic FAREPAY cards. Ten-day passes for flex routes would be discontinued, as would 30-day passes for buses to Park City.

“We have too many options available and many of them don’t bring in enough revenue to justify the administrative work involved,” Morton said.

For example, she said UTA sold only 12 of the 30-day passes for Park City buses during January and February, which it now seeks to cancel.

“I am confident the long-term benefits will be better and it will be worth the changes,” she said. “But please note that I’m sensitive to the fact that some of our riders will be inconvenienced as part of our renovation.”

UTA also is currently conducting a study required by the federal government to ensure that changes do not disproportionately hurt minorities or low-income populations.