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UTA looking at distance-based fares

UTA looking at distance-based fares

By Jasen Lee | Posted - Sep. 19, 2011 at 3:27 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — How far you travel could one day determine how much you pay to ride mass transit in Utah.

The Utah Transit Authority is undertaking a study to figure out the most fair and effective way to charge passengers who ride buses, light rail and commuter rail.

One proposal under consideration is a distance-based fare structure that would charge riders more the further they travel. The UTA Executive Committee Monday vetted the plan and forwarded it to the agency's full board for review later this month.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said the agency has been mulling the idea of distance-based fares — which it currently employs on FrontRunner — for years and the recent economic downturn has prompted more focused consideration in an effort to mitigate declining revenues while providing adequate transit options to the public.


Carpenter said UTA revenue projections have declined approximately $70 million in the wake of the economic downturn.

"We want to try to move toward a fare structure that is more equitable so that if someone is only going a couple of blocks, they are going to be charged a very low amount, (but) if they're going 20 miles, they'll be charged a higher amount," Carpenter explained.

Currently, the cash fare for adult bus and TRAX riders is $2.25, while the cash fare for premium express bus riders is $5.00, with adult FrontRunner passengers paying $2.25 for the basic fare with 50 cents charged for each additional station to a maximum of $5.25 to ride the full route between Salt Lake City and Pleasant View.

The proposal is still in its very early stages of discussion and no decision will be made until more detailed analysis and public input is received, Carpenter said. That would mean at least another year of review and study.

Earlier this year, UTA implemented a 25 percent incremental fare increase that would eventually have riders pay $2.50 for a full adult fare on bus or TRAX by April 1, 2013.

The newly approved changes are likely to net the Utah agency an additional $1 million this year and at least $10 million throughout the three-year process. After that, the board expects to revisit fare increases and may decide to implement a new process altogether.

The latest distance-based proposal could preempt that fare structure, if eventually approved, Carpenter said.

Fares account for approximately 11 percent of UTA's annual revenues and make up 20 percent of UTA's overall budget. Nationally, transit agencies earmark fares as 30 percent of their budgets, according to UTA.

Carpenter said UTA revenue projections have declined approximately $70 million in the wake of the economic downturn.

He said one of the potential advantages of a distance- based system is that it would help the agency to meet its revenue requirements while also achieving ridership goals.

"By lowering the fare for the short trips, we'll increase our ridership, while at the same time collect the necessary revenue that will allow us to meet our (financial) goals," Carpenter said.

"By doing so, we're able to become a more efficient system and (increase) service and achieve our performance targets in a way that is beneficial to our customers and our agency."

Email:jlee@ksl.com

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