Lower income Utahns, young people and students make up most of UTA’s ridership

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) This file photo shows a University of Utah student boarding a UTA bus at President's Circle stop on Aug. 13, 2012.

Two of every five UTA riders now are students. Half of all passengers come from households with incomes of less than a low $40,000 a year. About 61% are younger than age 34. And one of every four riders is a racial minority.

Those are among the findings of a large onboard survey of riders — with more than 13,000 completed questionnaires — that the federal government requires the Utah Transit Autority to conduct once every five years mostly to compare minority and nonminority riders’ use of the system to help prevent discrimination.

But it also provides wider data about exactly who rides UTA trains and buses plus where, when and how their trips are made. The agency uses that to help plan its service.

The UTA Board received a report on high-level findings this week from the survey conducted last fall. They included:

• 40% of all riders now are students — including 35% who attend college and 5% who attend K-12 schools. That is boosted by the free passes that most colleges buy and offer to students, which helps universities ease parking and congestion problems.

• A mere 8% of riders now use cash to pay their fares. Most of the rest use passes and electronic fare cards. But 11% ride in free-fare zones and routes, such as in downtown Salt Lake City or on the new Utah Valley Express bus rapid transit line in Provo and Orem.

• While UTA covers six counties, a prime focus for many riders is downtown Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. “Trips that are produced or end in that particular area represent 20% of our ridership,” said G.J. LeBonty, UTA customer experience manager.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A UTA bus in downtown Salt Lake City on Aug. 6, 2019.

Another 10% either begin or end in Provo and Orem, home to Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University.

• Most UTA riders, 57% overall, have access to cars and could have taken them instead of mass transit for the trips when they were surveyed. The others are called “captive” riders, who have few, if any, options besides transit.

Most riders on buses — 52% — are “captive” passengers. The FrontRunner commuter rail had the lowest percentage of riders who lacked access to a car: 26%. That percentage on TRAX light rail was 38%.

LeBonty noted that the percentage of “captive” riders was down by 2% since the last similar survey conducted in 2015.

Since then, “there was prosperity” as Utah’s economy boomed, he said. “People had options and access to more vehicles. It will be interesting to see what the post-COVID-19 climate looks like.”

• Three of every five riders are under age 35. “The median age in Utah is 31 years old, so that is no surprise to see that large percentage there,” LeBonty said.

• UTA service appears especially important to people with lower incomes.

Data show that 52% of riders live in households that earn less than $40,000 a year. One of every five live in households that earn less than $20,000 a year. LeBonty adds, “Riders earning less than $10,000 increased 7% since 2015.”

Still, 13% of UTA riders — one of every eight — come from relatively well-to-do households with incomes of more than $100,000 a year.

• Most people, 77%, get to or from transit stops by walking. Another 10% drive and park at a stop; 6% are dropped off by someone; and 4% ride a bike.

“Those four methods account for 97% of access and egress to all of our trips,” LeBonty said.

So how much do other “first and last mile” methods pushed recently by UTA — such as bike share, scooters, shuttles and Uber and Lyft — account for? Less than 1% combined.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) An electric scooter rider braves the rain in downtown Salt Lake City on Oct. 2, 2108 in front of a GreenBike rack.

• Riders surveyed onboard were asked the destination of their current trip. The top responses: 41% were headed home; 25% were going to work; 13% were headed to a university; 7% were running personal errands; and 4% were going shopping. Ranking lower were such things as going out for entertainment and sports events or heading to the airport.

• Those who ride UTA tend to use it often. The survey showed that 63% of riders use it five days a week or more. Only 4% report using it less than once per week.

• About 24% of UTA riders are minorities. That is a bit higher than the 22% of Utahns overall who are minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

• More men ride UTA than women. About 56% percent of riders are men, compared to 44% who are women. LeBonty said that generally mirrors the male-female split in the state’s workforce, “so there’s no surprise there.”