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Debbie Dujanovic Reporting
Produced by Kelly JustThe light rail costs hundreds of millions in tax money and it brings in millions of dollars in fares. An Eyewitness News Investigation exposes a hidden cost -- the price you pay when you park at the TRAX lot.
Angry riders called us, claiming crime is out of control and UTA's not doing enough. Debbie Dujanovic has spent months investigating.
Jason Corless is a TRAX customer. He said, "My truck was broken into once, gas siphoned, my truck was stolen. There's actually been a line of people waiting to see a police officer when they get off the train."
Jonathan Despain told KSL, "I came out, and the car was missing."
Jason Corless' routine seems to be: park, pay, get pilfered. Jonathan Despain thought his $50 TRAX pass made financial sense, but after a car break-in, another car stolen, not once, but twice, the real cost is more like $1,000.
Their stories sent us digging. We spent weeks poring over police reports from several different TRAX lots. We never expected to find this much crime. In just two years at least 300 cars were stolen or vandalized. Plus there were dozens of robberies, multiple acts of lewdness and, even worse, sexual assaults.
Last January a woman was followed off the train after dark and raped at the edge of a TRAX parking lot. The police report says she screamed "fire," to attract attention, but there was no one around to hear her cries. That, we discovered, is the problem.
UTA has its own police force of 23 officers. From the beginning they've promised to keep TRAX lots safe with frequent patrols. To see if UTA is keeping that promise, we spent several days staking out TRAX lots. During 18 hours, we saw only two UTA patrol cars, for a grand total of seven minutes. We had to visit headquarters to snap a photo of a UTA patrol car we could show riders.
We took what we found to UTA Police Chief Ross Larsen. He said, "I feel like we are delivering for the safety of our passengers."
Police officers in Salt Lake, Murray, Midvale and Sandy might disagree. The police logs reveal that in just two years, they've responded to TRAX lots more than 1,300 times -- that's nearly two incidents a day.
Larson said, "Our primary focus is always the safety of our passengers as they travel."
UTA admits it devotes more of its law enforcement resources to making sure passengers pay. "If we take care of the little things, such as people who evade a fare, then other lawlessness is suppressed," Larson said.
We found out that's a philosophy not all transit authorities share. In Denver, to decrease parking lot crime, they put up cameras. "If you have cameras in lots does it increase safety of cars? I don't personally believe it does," Larson said.
In Denver, the numbers tell the story: crime dropped 312 percent. In Utah, the main crime-fighting strategy is yellow report cards stuck on windshields. They remind riders to hide valuables and lock up. UTA says customers are getting the message.
The Despains don't feel like they should take the blame for their troubles. "We've had two different cars stolen. I don't want a yellow card. I want my car."
UTA says it only hands out those yellow report cards twice a year.
Remember if criminals hit your car, UTA doesn't pay, you do. UTA claims crime is just as bad in other lots, like malls. So we checked police reports on car thefts and burglaries at major malls. In four malls there were nearly a third fewer crimes than those committed in TRAX lots.