As the new Utah Valley Express (UVX) bus rapid transit begins service Monday on its 10.5-mile route through Provo and Orem, the price will be right: free.
And it will remain free for everyone for at least the next three years, thanks to a Federal Highway Administration Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant, the Utah Transit Authority announced.
The new line is opening nine months ahead of its original schedule to accommodate BYU and Utah Valley University students as they begin the fall semester. Construction on the line will continue through the fall, requiring use of some temporary stops near permanent stations.
In a deal with UTA last year, BYU and UVU had also agreed to pay $1 million each for 10 years to provide passes for all UTA bus and rail services to their students, staff and their families. Officials said that would provide passes to about 100,000 people a year and help bolster the new UVX service.
The new UVX is designed to look and act more like a train than a bus, although it operates on highways and on rubber wheels.
Its $1 million electric hybrid cars are 60 feet long, instead of 40 like most buses, with an accordion-like connector in its middle that allows it to bend around curves. Station platforms are elevated like a train’s, so passengers will not walk up bus stairs. It will have only 18 stations, instead of stopping every few blocks.
When construction is complete, bus-only lanes will cover about half of the route. UVX will be able to use priority control at traffic signals to speed it along. These bigger buses have much more standing room than regular ones, and have multiple entrances instead of just one by the driver. Bike racks are onboard, not outside.
UVX buses are scheduled to come every six minutes during morning and evening commutes, every six to 10 minutes during the day, and every 15-60 minutes in the early morning and late evening. Schedule information is available at rideuta.com
Interim UTA Executive Director Steve Meyer has said bus rapid transit is what much of future transit along the Wasatch Front may look like. BRT lines are much cheaper to build than TRAX lines.
“We have about 200 miles of bus rapid transit in future plans,” he said.
That includes lines from downtown Ogden to Weber State University; from downtown Salt Lake City through Davis County; and from West Valley City through Taylorsville to Murray.
UTA has operated a partial bus rapid transit line in West Valley City for years: the MAX bus on 3500 South. But it has only one mile of exclusive lanes and uses shorter buses.
The new Provo-Orem line cost about $150 million. In contrast, the mid-Jordan TRAX extension on what is now part of its Red Line cost $535 million when it was completed in 2011 to cover an almost identical distance.
UTA has several other schedule changes in its system beginning Sunday, one of three times a year that it tweaks them.
That includes UTA canceling bus routes 830, 838 and 840 in Utah County and replacing them with UVX. Minor schedule changes are also being made there to bus routes 821, 831 and 834.
In Salt Lake County, minor schedule changes will be made to the TRAX Red, Blue and Green lines to improve reliability.
The hours of service on bus routes 33 and 35 (along 3300 and 3500 South in Salt Lake County) will be lengthened to provide evening service at more stops. Because of that service, the MAX bus service along the same route will end earlier.
Some scheduling changes are also coming in Salt Lake County to bus routes 21, 47, 72, 200, 201, 209, 213, 217, 240, 313, 354, 516, 525, 526, 551, F94, F504, F518, F522, F546 and F547 to increase reliability or improve connections with TRAX.
In Weber County, UTA is canceling FrontRunner train service to Pleasant View and replacing it with Route 616 bus service.