With ridership down 65%, UTA announces wide service cuts due to coronavirus

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) A TRAX train turns the corner on 200 South 400 West in Salt Lake City in 2018. The Utah Transit Authority plans to reduced service during the coronavirus pandemic.

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With ridership down by 65% because of coronavirus restrictions, the Utah Transit Authority moved Friday to cut its service significantly beginning on April 5.

Bus and trains will come less frequently, although the agency says it is trying to maintain at least some base service along most routes. UTA also is canceling some commuter-only service where alternatives are available.

“A 15-minute bus route will come every 30 minutes, and 30-minute bus routes will come every 60 minutes,” Eric Callison, UTA manager of service planning, said at a special meeting of the UTA board.

“Light rail will move from 15-minute headways all day to 30 minutes," he added, “and commuter rail will move from 30 minutes to 60 minutes on weekdays.”

The Utah Valley Express bus-rapid-transit system in Provo and Orem will move from service every six minutes at peak times to every 15 minutes.

UTA will also cancel some fast bus service for commuters where alternative (but slower) local bus service is available.

“On some of these routes, we’ve seen single-digit ridership numbers per day for the last few days," Callison said. “That doesn’t really make sense to continue running them until conditions return more or less to normal.”

Details on routes changes will be posted online on rideuta.com and made available on buses and trains along with key stops, officials said. UTA’s website will allow planning trips with the new schedules on Tuesday, a few days before the new schedules take effect on April 5.

The agency said the moves will save about $4 million between April and June, mostly from savings on fuel and overtime.

UTA does not plan to lay off any of its operators for now.

Eddy Cumins, UTA operations director, said the agency plans to have them work three eight-hour days, and report for possible work for another two eight-hour days. On those report-only shifts, they may fill in for drivers who call in sick or attend additional training he said the agency has wanted to conduct.

Also, when ridership starts to return, those report-only shifts would allow the agency to ramp up additional service more quickly.

“We really want to still focus on our workforce retention,” said UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot. “We don’t want to lay off a lot of workers right now. We want to keep them occupied. There’s plenty of things to continue to do, but at the same time we want to limit their hours of exposure on the street.”

Cumins said that before the coronavirus, UTA served about 169,000 riders a day. “Today, we’re carrying about 59,000. That’s a 65% percent decrease systemwide.”

Bus ridership is down 61%, light rail is down 64%, FrontRunner commuter rail is down 77%, paratransit for the disabled is down 78%, and the Utah Valley Express is down 73%.

“We need to continue to provide service to those who need to travel to their jobs or for essential trips,” Gonot said. She is unsure how long the service reductions will last. “But we hope that it will be short.”

Cumins said the agency will continue to watch and tweak routes as needed, perhaps adding some service back or cutting more to fit demand.

Gonot added that transit agencies nationwide have seen their ridership plummet, and UTA actually has maintained more riders than many of them.

“We’re very lucky our workers are coming to work. That’s not the case with many transit agencies in the country right now,” Gonot said. “Some of them are suspending service just because they don’t have the workforce coming in.”