If Gov. Spencer Cox gets his way, riding on Utah’s public transit system would be fareless.
In the governor’s recent budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year, traveling with the Utah Transit Authority would be free for all riders. The feasibility study would cost $25.5 million, according to the governor’s plan.
“We think with this one-year pilot program, that will allow us to really see what’s happening,” Cox said during a news conference Friday, “this is a win-win — we have the money to fund it ... But this is good for clean air, it’s good to get cars off of our congested roadways and we think it will make a big difference long term.”
Cox’s proposal, which was part of his two-day budget rollout, called for UTA services — which includes buses, Trax light rail and the Frontrunner passenger train — to be free for a year, though it’s not immediately clear when those dates could be.
Cox said Friday the free fares could start next summer or fall. The proposal would be part of the 2024 fiscal year, which will run from July 1, 2023, through the following June.
In May, Cox said during a monthly news conference that he supported the idea of free transit in the state, citing it as a way for Utahns to combat high gas prices. However, House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, later told The Salt Lake Tribune there wasn’t much support for free or reduced fares for transit.
State Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, proposed free transit fares in a bill during the 2022 legislative session, but the bill didn’t pass.
Briscoe told The Tribune that he met with Cox’s staff earlier this year and floated the possibility of making public transit free, but the governor’s office didn’t say if free transit would be a part of the latest budget proposal. The Democrat said he didn’t know of Cox’s proposal until he was contacted by a reporter from The Tribune.
“I love it, I think it’s a great thing,” Briscoe said. “I’m excited he’s putting his money where his mouth is.”
Earlier this week, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said on the City Cast Salt Lake podcast that Cox would be proposing free transit as part of his budget recommendations.
“I just talked to the governor’s office yesterday, there will be a proposal … I hope I’m not breaking news here,” the Republican said on the podcast, which was released Monday.
“I hope you are,” said City Cast Salt Lake host Ali Vallarta.
“There’s going to be a proposal to make UTA free for a whole year for everyone and to kind of see what we get from there,” Weiler said.
The governor’s proposal comes nearly a year after UTA held “Free Fare February.” A report from UTA indicated the promotion led to a 16% increase in weekday ridership and less pollution. Cox said Friday he hopes to have another “Free Fare February” in 2023.
Like all budget proposals from the governor, free fares on the UTA would need to be approved by the Legislature.