Ride UTA for free Thursday and Friday as part of ‘Free Fares for Clean Air’

The program is aimed at reducing pollution from vehicles with single occupants by encouraging public transportation use.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A UTA bus in downtown Salt Lake City, Aug. 6, 2019.

Commuters and other travelers can leave their cars at home Thursday and Friday to ride the state’s buses and rails for free.

As part of their efforts to improve air quality, the Utah Transit Authority and Department of Environmental Quality encourage would-be drivers to take public transit instead with free rides and no need to scan fare cards both days.

Along with all bus and rail routes, travelers can also use paratransit and the UTA On Demand service in southern Salt Lake County for free during the two days of the “Free Fares for Clean Air” program.

“If you haven’t tried transit before, now is the time to ride UTA,” UTA board chair Carlton Christensen said. “Invite a friend or a family member to ride with you.”

Following days of air polluted by wildfire smoke from the West Coast, the program highlights a way Utahns can take air quality into their own hands.

“By choosing to ride UTA instead of driving you can help counter the negative effects of harmful pollution that threatens our health and our quality of life,” Christensen said.

Pollution from transportation accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Each vehicle emits about 404 grams of carbon dioxide. If you drive 10,000 miles in a year, which is below the EPA’s estimated average of 11,500 miles, you’re likely contributing about 4 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

By taking public transportation rather than your own car or a taxi service, you’re cutting down on carbon each mile.

“It’s not just our wintertime inversions that make our air unhealthy,” said Kim Shelley, executive director of the DEQ. “Over the past two weeks we’ve seen summertime can have some of the worst air quality days.”

The state will reimburse UTA for the fares it didn’t collect for the two days with money allocated in a 2019 bill aimed at reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joel K. Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, also calls on the DEQ’s Division of Air Quality to encourage would-be single drivers to carpool, work remotely or find other ways to reduce their mileage.

“We can do this by working together to make the air cleaner for all of us and especially for unborn babies and people suffering with respiratory problems,” Briscoe said. “I’m asking and pleading for all Utahns to ride transit for the next two days.”