Congressman is new fan of experimental ‘microtransit’ service in south Salt Lake County

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Ben McAdams, when he was Salt Lake County mayor, pictured on Dec. 22, 2017, when he announced a Free Fare Friday to encourage greater use of transit during periods of poor air quality. McAdams recently has become a fan of the microtransit option being offered by UTA in the southern part of Salt Lake County.

The Utah Transit Authority’s new “UTA On Demand by Via” microtransit service has a new fan: Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah.

“It’s a game changer,” he said Wednesday after experimenting with it the first time. It inspired him to call for more people to use it to connect to mass transit to help reduce air pollution.

On a rainy January day with no inversion (thanks mostly to recent storms), McAdams reveled in doing his small part to help clean the air. “You’re welcome, Utah,” he joked.

Like Uber or Lyft, microtransit allows using a smartphone (or even calling from a landline) to seek a van ride to go anywhere in a 65-square-mile area in southern Salt Lake County. It costs the same as UTA bus fare and allows transferring to other transit services.

(Lee Davidson | Tribune file photo) A van for the new UTA On Demand microtransit service opens the door for passengers to enter in Herriman on Nov. 26, 2019.

McAdams used it to go to and from the Draper FrontRunner train station to an “off the beaten path” business meeting. He said it helped him solve a barrier that often prevents him from using mass transit — how to quickly, easily and cheaply travel the first and last mile to transit stops.

“We’ve got the backbone of a really good transit system,” he said. “But it’s the first and last mile that makes it difficult for people. So this is a game changer.”

He said he found the smartphone app easy to use — and similar to Uber and Lyft — and his ride arrived quickly. The fare was the same as bus fare, $2.50.

“There were three of us, so it cost $7.50,” he said. “I looked to see how much Lyft would be, and it was $9. So it was cheaper. If it were just me, it would have been a lot cheaper.”

The Via service will also pick up other passengers going generally the same direction, but McAdams said that didn’t happen on either of his trips. He said his drivers also reported that they are increasingly busy as more people figure out and try the new service.

“The first time can always be a little bit tricky as you figuring out how the system works,” he said. “But once you've done it, it's easy and convenient and actually pretty pleasant. You get to your destination not as stressed out, and you've had time to read a book or check out social media.”

He said he would like to see the experimental service to expand eventually to other areas, along with other first/last mile options such as GREENbike.

McAdams said that because his schedule changes often, that usually prevents him from using mass transit — but he tries it when possible, and urges others to do the same.

“Give it a try when you can. This pleasant and convenient option actually helps to contribute to our air quality,” he said.