UTA May Reconsider Bad Air/Free Fare Days

UTA May Reconsider Bad Air/Free Fare Days

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Transit Authority may reconsider an idea it rejected a few years ago: offering free rides on high-pollution days.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering new air-pollution standards that would put new pressure on the Wasatch Front to find more and better ways to cut pollution.

Both UTA and air-quality officials say they are open to again exploring the bad-air-free-fare idea.

"We'd like to see something like that move forward," said Cheryl Heying of the state Division of Air Quality.

Back when it was first suggested, neither the UTA nor the state Division of Air Quality took the idea of free fares on bad air days very far. There was never a formal proposal. Neither did an in-depth review of how many new riders might be expected or how much free-fare days might cost in dollars or reduced air pollution.

Most years, Utah has about 30 days, in summer and winter combined, when pollution levels approach the current federal limits or exceed them. That means UTA would stand to lose about $6 million in fares a year with a free-fare policy.

But UTA spokesman Justin Jones said the biggest problem with the free-fare idea might be the crowding of trains and buses.

TRAX has more than double the number of riders that planners expected 20 years from now. Squeezing more riders onto UTA buses and trains may draw complaints.

"Our riders would actually have a bad experience," Jones said.

In another development Thursday, the UTA board announced that the organization's general counsel, Kathryn Pett, is leaving

She is joining the law firm of Snell & Wilmer. At the Phoenix-based firm, she hopes to facilitate transit programs in other cities in the West while continuing to live in Utah.

The UTA board voted unanimously to retain Pett as a consultant and to guarantee her at least $50,000 worth of business over the next year.

"Great mission, great people, and I still expect to contribute," said Pett, who's been at the agency for eight years. "I'll be happy to help, but I want to help others (foster transit) also."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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