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Here’s why you do (and don’t) take public transportation: UTA survey results

The survey asked 600 people about how and why they use UTA services

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Utah Transit Authority bus travels west on 6th Avenue, Friday, May 13, 2022. UTA recently presented the results of its annual benchmark survey.

You probably won’t be surprised by the biggest reason people ride public transportation: it saves gas.

36% of Utah Transit Authority riders are using public transit for this reason, up from 16% in 2022, according to UTA’s annual Benchmark Survey.

Utah is currently facing the steepest gas prices the state has ever encountered. The nation is feeling the crunch at gas pumps as inflation rises and since President Joe Biden banned all Russian oil imports in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

This wasn’t the only finding of UTA’s survey, conducted in conjunction with Las Vegas-based advertising firm R&R Partners.

The report, presented at a June 22 UTA Board Meeting, was based on survey answers gathered via phone and web between January and February 2022.

The survey has been conducted annually for about two decades, UTA Communications Director Andrea Packer said.

“This is kind of the second year doing this survey as we were still… emerging from COVID,” Packer said, “and during a time when a lot of transit providers have struggled, a lot of key metrics did improve during this time.”

This year, 600 participants were surveyed across four counties (Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber) with a 4% margin of error. Half were women and nearly half were men, with 1% identifying as nonbinary. They represented a diverse mix of ages, employment statuses, education levels and ethnicities, according to the meeting presentation.

Why people ride

A comparison of measures from 2018 to 2022 showed the following:

  • 72% of survey respondents are satisfied with UTA in 2022, down slightly from 74% in 2018.

  • 36% believe UTA is making good use of public funds, up from 20% in 2018.

  • 37% of this year’s survey respondents believe UTA is held accountable to the public, compared to only 24% in 2018.

  • 40% think UTA is responsive to the community, up from 28% in 2018.

  • 34% think UTA provides quality service, while only 22% of 2018 riders thought the same.

  • Favorable impressions of buses and the FrontRunner are up (32% to 22%; 56% to 54%) while favorable impressions of Trax are down (52% to 59%).

Other reasons included parking (15% in 2020 to 28% in 2022), the ability to multitask (13% to 26%) and because it’s fun to ride (24% to 28%).

Why people don’t ride

Among people who currently don’t ride public transit, inconvenience was a commonly cited reason — even though services are near them.

  • 32% of those who don’t ride public transit said taking TRAX is inconvenient, even though 33% of total survey respondents live near TRAX lines.

  • 32% said riding buses is inconvenient; 64% live near bus routes.

  • 21% said taking the FrontRunner is inconvenient, although 40% live near FrontRunner stops.

UTA will focus on redefining convenience, such as emphasizing how public transit riders avoid traffic and parking when traveling downtown, moving forward.

The report also found that inconvenience is a factor that contributes to negative perceptions of public transportation, along with cleanliness and feeling unsafe.

A comparison of 2020 and 2022 numbers showed that on buses, the rate of survey respondents concerned about inconvenience remained the same at 41%; while on Trax, it dropped from 50% to 44% and on FrontRunner from 55% to 50%.

But those concerned by homeless people riding buses is 14% this year, doubled from 2020′s 7%. On Trax, it jumped from 0% to 14%; and on FrontRunner from 0% to 9%.

Additionally, those concerned about cleanliness on buses rose from 2% in 2020 to 12% in 2022. Concerns about crime and personal safety on TRAX is up to 19% from 2020′s 11%; and 9% of this year’s survey respondents are concerned about FrontRunner fares versus 6% in 2020.

“Overall, this year and other years, [fares] still does not emerge as a top reason people don’t ride,” Packer said.

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