About 216 riders a day may not seem like much. But Utah Transit Authority officials are thrilled that its new “microtransit” experiment in southwestern Salt Lake County is attracting that many people after its first 20 days — and before a big marketing push is planned.
The service is a hybid between ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, and traditional transit. Riders use smartphones (or may call on a landline) to request a shared van ride to anywhere in a 65-square mile area for the same price as bus fare. Many use it to transfer to UTA rail lines.
“To hear that we are doing about 200 a day is amazing,” said UTA Board member Kent Millington, who added that he is hearing from people in many areas — especially his home Utah County — who want the service to spread eventually into their communities.
“The goal is 350 to 450 [riders a day] in six months,” said UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot, who added that it seems to be ahead of schedule.
She said the average customer’s wait time for a van is 8.8 minutes, which is better than the goal of 15 minutes. The average rating that customers give their rides online is 4.8 out of 5. Also, 3,700 people have downloaded the smartphone app needed to use it.
Officials said UTA has done relatively little advertising so far, with some social media and notices to train riders about the new service — but said they saw significant increases after news media stories about it.
“We haven’t done the hard strategic marketing push that we planned to do after the holidays, and we’re still seeing a high rise in our numbers,” said Nichol Bourdeaux, UTA chief communications and marketing officer.
The board on Wednesday also adopted its 2020 budget — and continuing microtransit and just-expanded ski bus service are key new parts of that spending plan.
Thanks to recent sales tax hikes, the UTA Board approved a 7.4% budget increase and will spend nearly a half-billion dollars on operations next year, $491.9 million to be exact.
It also approved a $191.5 million construction and maintenance budget that includes relocating its TRAX station at Salt Lake City International Airport, starting work on a bus rapid transit line in Ogden and double tracking more FrontRunner commuter rail to speed service.
More than $1 of every $4 in UTA’s 2020 operating budget — 27.6% — will go toward paying off its $2.1 billion debt, amassed mostly as a mortgage to accelerate construction in recent years of its TRAX and FrontRunner rail systems.
Debt service is the single-largest expenditure in its budget next year at $135.9 million. The next biggest expense, at $108.9 million, is for bus service
For UTA’s $490.1 operating budget next year, 70.6% of the revenue is expected to come from sales tax revenue. Federal grants would provide about 13.8%. About 11.2% will come from passenger fares, which will remain the same.
Salt Lake and Utah counties imposed quarter-cent sales tax hikes last July 1 partially for transit, and 2020 will be the first full year of revenues from them. They are expected to bring in $28.1 million from Salt Lake County and $9.7 million from Utah County. Also, Salt Lake City provided an extra $4 million to fund extra bus service there, which is continuing.