UTA ridership starts to rebound, but is still 68% below pre-pandemic levels

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A UTA bus drives down 100 South in Downtown Salt Lake City on Aug. 6, 2019.

The Utah Transit Authority is seeing glints of hope emerging from otherwise depressing data about its ridership during the pandemic.

In short: while bus and train ridership is still down by 68% compared from what it was before COVID-19 hit, it has risen by 32% since ridership hit its lowest point on April 7.

“Ridership is still down when compared to pre-COVID ridership. But we are making some progress,” UTA Chief Operations Officer Eddy Cummins told the agency’s board on Wednesday.

While he says UTA still has far to go, he predicted that numbers will increase more as UTA restores service on Aug. 23 to about 91% of its pre-COVID levels.

Cummins said 50,510 people now ride UTA trains and buses on a typical weekday.

That is down from 156,640 who rode before the pandemic. But it is up from the 38,299 who boarded when ridership bottomed out on April 7.

He offered statistics for different types of service offered by UTA:

• Bus ridership is now down by 64% compared to pre-COVID levels but is up by 34% compared to the lowest day.

• FrontRunner commuter rail is down by 78% compared to before the pandemic but is up 75% compared to April 7.

• TRAX light rail is down by 70% compared to pre-COVID numbers, but up 19% since the worst numbers during the pandemic.

Beginning Aug. 23 — which is one of three regular “change days” the agency has to tweak schedules every year — UTA will restore miles and hours of service back to 91% of pre-COVID offerings.

Some popular routes will even see the frequency increase, but others will be suspended entirely.

Last month, UTA officials told the State Bonding Commission that after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and a “new normal” emerges, they expect that ridership and revenue from fares will be significantly smaller — down maybe 15% — and it may take the agency several years to work back even to that lower plateau.

The agency said then that projections show revenue from passenger fares is expected to be down 41% this year compared to previous projections; down 34% next year; and by 22% in 2022 before eventually settling in at the new normal of 15% lower than pre-coronavirus ridership and fares.

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