SALT LAKE CITY — Yelling “excuse me” to the assembled dignitaries and reporters gathered for a news conference to unveil new bus shelters and signs designed to make Utah Transit Authority travel easier, a man raced through the crowd just in time to catch a westbound bus at the 200 West stop near 900 South.
Had the hurried passenger arrived sooner, he could have double-checked the details of the route on the redesigned sign installed just outside on a special eight-sided pole intended to help sight-impaired riders know they’re at a bus stop, then waited inside a new, glassed-in shelter.
“We’ve been working hard to improve the experience of the customer as they access and use the system, particularly the bus system,” said Carlton Christensen, chairman of the three-member UTA board of trustees. “Bus stops are the front door to UTA’s system.”
He said the improvements being made with funding help from the city along key routes are part of the transit agency’s comprehensive program intended to eventually make sure every stop throughout the UTA system is safe and inviting, as well as compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Outgoing Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski cited the positive impact that the improvements to UTA, which also extended bus services along several routes, have had on city residents, particularly those who live on the west side.
The improvements are being made to stops along UTA bus routes 2, 9 and 21, the same routes that have seen increased bus service since August and, in some cases, new electric zero-emission buses funded through a federal grant.
The mayor quoted a woman named Maggie who contacted the city to say “extending the UTA transit times is a big win for me anyway. It has made a huge difference in my commute. I honestly prefer taking the bus now instead of driving.”
She said the city’s “Funding our Future” initiative, paid for out of a 0.5% increase to the city’s share of sales taxes that was approved in 2018, focused largely on transit and improving air quality, but also “kept in mind our mission to build a city for everyone.”
Better bus stops, wheelchair accessibility and the additional bus service encourage residents to “get out of their cars and make transit their first choice. Every time people like Maggie leave the car at home, we are helping solve our air pollution problem,” Biskupski said.
Later bus service connecting the east and west sides of the city along 900 South is “bringing equity and opportunity for the first time to students from Glendale who attend East High School” and had to leave by 4 p.m. to catch the last bus back to their neighborhood, missing out on many after-school activities, she said.
She said students from the west side attending Highland High School also are benefiting from later bus service.
Both Carlton and Biskupski said Salt Lake City’s partnership with UTA can be a model for other cities served by the transit agency.
“We hope this sparks some interest,” Carlton said. He said UTA has committed $2 million this year for bus stop improvements in Salt Lake County and is anticipating spending at least $1 million annually in the future to make over the highest-ridership stops.
Salt Lake City has invested some $7.8 million in UTA upgrades, with about $2.2 million going for improvements to bus shelters and signs, along with accessibility, on top of money spent for increased bus services and $800,000 set aside for an upcoming on-demand ride service, the mayor’s spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said.
“We want people to use this. We want them to like it. We want them to tell their friends about it,” Biskupski said of using the bus. “The goal is that it’s comfortable year-round to use, and it’s easy and it’s fast and it gives you that frequency that you need in order to make it worth it.”