UTA ridership and fare revenue dropped more than two-thirds at height of virus restrictions

Data presented Wednesday to the Utah Transit Authority Board shows how deeply its ridership and revenue plunged in April, at the height of state stay-at-home directives for COVID-19.

That includes:

• Ridership was down 68.4%. for that month, with about 1.2 million rider trips instead of the normally projected 3.8 million.

• That meant that ridership for the year (through April 30) was down by 23.2%, from a projected 14.8 million passenger trips to just 11.4 million.

• Revenue from passenger fares and passes in April was down by 68.5%, coming in at about $1.4 million instead of a budgeted $4.5 million. For the year through April 30, passenger fare revenue was down by 22.3%.

• About two-thirds of UTA revenue actually comes from sales tax, not fares. It was down 4.7% in April — but that was from receipts from sales a month earlier during March. UTA expects to see revenue from sales made in April to be much lower.

• UTA produces a statistic to measure how much government subsidy is required per rider trip, essentially for costs not covered by fares. Before the pandemic, it had expected to see a subsidy of $5.88 per ride in April. It actually was $18.53, or 215% higher than initially expected.

• The subsidy per rider varied greatly by type of transit during April. That included, from highest to lowest: $175.24 per passenger trip for paratransit service for the disabled; $48.48 for FrontRunner commuter rail; $17.21 for bus service; $13.43 for light rail; and $1.33 for Rideshare commuter van service.

• Data also showed how far ridership was reduced by different type of transit during April, compared to the same month a year earlier. Bus ridership was down by 66%; light rail was down by 70%; FrontRunner was down by 86%; paratransit was down 76%; and RideShare van service was down 14%.

The budget did have a few minor bright spots.

For example, UTA initially had budgeted to pay about $2.50 per gallon for diesel fuel. It actually paid only $1.11 per gallon during April, a savings of more than 55%.

Also, UTA managed to lower its operation costs by about 9% in April, saving about $2.3 million from budgeted amounts.

UTA officials have said that it may take up to three years for its revenues to recover from coronavirus impacts — and it’s preparing for a possible long-term “new normal” with significantly lower revenue than in the past.

UTA had greatly reduced service on April 5 because of COVID-19, cutting frequency on most bus and rail lines by about half — although it tried to maintain some level of service in most places. It figured the cuts would save about $4 million through June from savings in fuel and overtime. It did not lay off operators, using federal grants to preserve jobs.

UTA also said it has taken numerous steps to help build confidence that traveling on its buses and trains is safe. It is adding back service when extra demand on routes appears, which also helps maintain some social distancing without filling buses.

UTA has increased cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles; provides masks, gloves, sanitizer and wipes to operators; discontinued physical handling of passes and tickets; has passengers enter from rear doors on buses; automatically opens TRAX doors to prevent touching on-demand buttons; and installed plastic guards around operators.

UTA is also replacing fabric on some seat covers with hard plastic or vinyl because it is easier to clean.