The Utah Transit Authority discovered some interesting facts about who rides its system — and who pays more — during the first six months of a scheduled two-year study on how to rework its fares.
It presented some findings at a board committee meeting Wednesday, including:
• About one of every three bus and train passengers — 31 percent, to be exact — are university students who are given passes or buy them at a discount from their schools. But they provide only 16 percent of all UTA fare revenue.
• Workers who buy or are given passes from their employers provide 19 percent of all UTA fare revenue — but account for only 7 percent of its ridership.
• People who buy monthly passes on their own provide 19 percent of all fare revenue, and 17 percent of ridership.
• Passengers who use FAREPAY electronic fee cards, which have been offering promotional discounts, provide 11 percent of fare revenue and 12 percent of ridership.
• Folks who buy the traditional single tickets with cash, credit cards or debit cards provide 30 percent of fare revenue, and 25 percent of ridership.
UTA is conducting a study that it says aims to make its fare system simpler and more fair, to replace the current system that has numerous passes and discounts in addition to standard fares that are the same no matter the distance traveled.
The first step of the study over the past six months investigated the fundamental issues the agency faces with fare collection.
The agency next plans to develop options for change — hoping to unveil a refined proposal by December. After public comment and tweaks, it hopes its board will adopt any new fare system by next June, and implement it in January 2019.
This effort comes after an aborted attempt by the agency to base fares on distances traveled. That proposal ran into public opposition, would have eliminated the option of paying with cash, and may also have ended popular pass programs.
Documents given to the board on Wednesday noted that fares now provide only 14 percent of all UTA revenue, about $55 million out of $365 million. Meanwhile, sales taxes provide 67 percent of revenue and federal grants account for about 17 percent.
UTA figures each ride on its bus and train system is now subsidized by taxes to the tune of $4.50.
The first part of the study also looked at the different fare-payment methods now used — from cash to credit cards, monthly passes, and electronic fare cards — and concluded that each “provides benefit to some portion of the current UTA rider segment.”
For example, many riders use cash “either because it is their only means or because they consider it the most convenient method for less frequent use,” the study said. UTA previously had proposed to do away with cash, and to rely on electronic cards, to help save in collection costs and allow distance-based fares.
The study said UTA also plans soon to start allowing payment by smartphone. It noted that about 88 percent of UTA riders surveyed have a smartphone.
UTA also researched how other transit agencies similar in size and operation handle fares.
Among those, “It is common to have higher fare on more premium services, such as commuter rail; typically according to distance traveled and/or time of day,” the study said.
Many agencies raise fares to cover gaps in operating costs. “Sometimes, fare increases are mitigated for impact to low-income persons through the development of programs to increase affordability.”