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UTA considers pay-by-distance plan, changes to free fare zone

By Jasen Lee | Posted - Dec. 23, 2011 at 5:14 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — How much commuters pay to ride the bus or train along the Wasatch Front could depend upon how far they wish to travel. The Utah Transit Authority is considering a proposal that, if eventually implemented, could have passengers who are traveling longer distances paying more than those traveling a few blocks.

Pay-by-distance proposal

Currently, all passengers riding UTA buses or TRAX pay the same $2.25 flat rate fare no matter how far they ride, but the UTA board this week discussed new fare structure options that could include a distance-based system, similar to the one currently in use on FrontRunner commuter rail.

"We're looking to take advantage of our new electronic fare collection system," said UTA general manager Michael Allegra. Every UTA bus and train stop has been equipped with "tap on/tap off" fare boxes that allow customers to pay their fare electronically rather using cash or coins, he said.

Allegra said the technology gives the agency the ability to consider altering the fare system to a more equitable method of payment for passengers.

The theory is that you pay for what you use, just like our utilities or vehicle fuel taxes.

–Michael Allegra, UTA

"The theory is that you pay for what you use, just like our utilities or vehicle fuel taxes," he said. The potential change could be a radical change to passengers' sensibilities that are used to the one-fare system, he acknowledged, but the idea has worked fairly well in cities.

He also said that the public should understand that the changes are just in the discussion phase, and more time is needed to include public input as well as more detailed analysis.

"It would take us at least a year to get through all the hearings, analysis, research and response to come up with the right solution," Allegra said. He added that there could be some incremental fare testing in smaller market areas within the UTA system prior to implementing any changes systemwide.

The way UTA is going with its fare structure is the same as has been employed in other major metro areas around the country, he noted.

"We couldn't do this last year, but because now our buses are GPS-equipped and because we have the devices now to tap on and tap off, and the industry is going to credit cards with electronic chips in them — all of that is coming together to make this (potential change) a possibility," he explained.

Proposed changes to free fare zone

Did you know?
Since its opening, TRAX ridership has far exceeded initial projections. The Sandy/Salt Lake line, initially projected to service 14,000 riders a day, carries more than 27,000 riders per day. The University line carries around 15,000 per day, more than 35 percent of the daily University population.

-Source: UTA TRAX fact sheet

As for the impact the changes could have on the downtown "free fare zone," Allegra said that issue is still up for debate and more study and discussion would be required before making any decisions.

And while some commuters said the new fare proposal seemed fair, how the changes would impact downtown tourist and convention commuting is another important issue to consider, Allegra said.

"We recognized there is a substantive amount of people who use it to go two and three blocks," he said.

Commuter Ryan Stock is a daily TRAX rider who likes the option of the having the free fare zone when he is getting around downtown.

"I take it … if I'm at work and want to go to lunch," he said. "Whenever I'm downtown, I take it. It's really nice."

Meanwhile, regular transit rider Terry Wood said he preferred the flat rate fare system and would be opposed to a distance-based system.

"I think it's no good," he said. "I'm on a fixed income (and) can't afford that kind of stuff."

Whatever is implemented in the future will be in collaboration with civic leaders, the business community and key policy makers that are instructing UTA, Allegra said.


Written by Jasen Lee with contributions from Jed Boal.


Jasen Lee


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