Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson explained why she was six minutes late to a news conference Friday to talk about her week using public transit.
“The train was late,” she said matter-of-factly as she walked up.
Wilson recounted challenges she experienced, and admitted she cheated once for lack of late-night transit. But overall, she said it was fun and she plans to use transit more often. She encourages others to follow suit to cut pollution, improve health and even connect more with the community.
“I enjoyed it. It was easy. It felt safe to me. I never felt uncomfortable,” Wilson said. “There’s a great amount of diversity using our system. You see it all. ... You do see some in need on our system. But you see just as many people carrying briefcases. There’s a lot of young people.”
Wilson, who lives near the University of Utah, said she found her main commute to the county center on State Street at 2100 South took about an hour, instead of the usual 25 to 30 minutes by car. About a half-hour of that was to walk to TRAX stops on both ends of the trip.
“That hour I just spent getting here was well-spent and enjoyable,” Wilson said. She wasn’t fighting traffic and was able to work on the train. The half-hour walking “helped me get in a lot of steps. As someone who’s counting my steps these days, that matters.”
She acknowledged that she may not have enjoyed the week as much if it had been snowing — and said one reason she rode this week was to see some of what others endure who have no other options, and how officials might help.
She did find some tough connections.
She took her son and a friend to the opening Utah Jazz game. “With the kids late at night, we were talking like an hour and a half to get home. I had to get them to bed.” So she used a ride-hailing app to get a ride in a car.
“I cheated on the diet one night,” she said. Wilson added it helped her realize that many don’t have the resources to call an Uber or Lyft and must live with whatever the system offers — and that improving frequency and adding late night and weekend service is important.
One day after a breakfast meeting at the University of Utah, “I had to be in Holladay, and realized there was no easy way to get to Holladay,” she said, adding she had to wait a long time for a needed bus.
“I sat around for an hour, worked with my staff, hopped on the bus, and then it was a really pleasant ride,” she said. She then had to travel from there to The Gateway in Salt Lake City.
To atone for cheating earlier after the Jazz game, she said she turned down ride offers from other officials heading to the same meeting and took a long but pleasant bus ride there, working along the way.
She also rode GREENbike — a rental bike, which officials see as a key part of getting to and from transit. She did not, however, ride a motorized scooter. “I intended to, but that never quite materialized.”
She said the GREENbike was at times pleasant and terrifying.
The scary part was the traffic as she rode through downtown, then taking North Temple to the Jordan River. “That was white-knuckle,” she said.
Then she rode on trails along the Jordan River Parkway to a meeting of mayors. “The views were great.” She said she sometimes used an electric-assist GREENBike that made traveling easier.
“If we can move as quickly as I did on a bike,” she said, “we’re going to get a lot of cars off the road.”
She said that according to calculators from the Utah Clean Air Partnership, “if I had been driving a gas car this week, I would have emitted more than 25 pounds of carbon into the air.” She said riding Utah Transit Authority buses and trains for one day each week prevents an average of 5.4 pounds of emissions.
Wilson said she plans to use transit more when she plans to be in the office all day, or on days when she perhaps has just one trip (when she can share an electric car her office has for staff to use on errands).
She said she found that doing many trips in a day on transit now is tough, and one lesson from that is: “Frequent, more reliable transit with broader coverage is the goal” and would help her and others ride more often.
Of course, that would take money. Sales taxes were raised recently to help. Wilson said she intends to seek more help from the federal government — and was appointed to a transportation committee on the National Association of Counties that also hopes to push that.
“We need to get back to the day where the federal government understands that ... keeping people moving and getting to work again is largely dependent on the transit system,” and that is needed to fuel the economy, she said.