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Ridership down, but UTA plans to keep going amid COVID-19 concerns

Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

Ridership down, but UTA plans to keep going amid COVID-19 concerns

By Carter Williams, | Updated - Mar. 17, 2020 at 6:09 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 17, 2020 at 3:46 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — While many events and social gatherings have been canceled amid COVID-19 concerns over the past week, Utah Transit Authority officials reassured riders Tuesday they are doing whatever they can to keep regular service going for as long as possible.

Their message comes as overall ridership has declined over the past few days as social distancing and isolation measures have been put in place. Bus ridership has dropped about 23%, TRAX has slipped about 25-30% and FrontRunner ridership has fallen 60% in recent days, according to UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot.

As of Tuesday, the agency has suspended or limited nearly a dozen bus routes. Eddy Cummins, UTA chief operations officer, pointed out those routes are near ski resorts that have shuttered for the season, schools that are closed, and work centers that aren’t busy for the moment. Those routes will resume once locations they service are back up and running.

School routes

  • Route 919 (West High School): Service suspended.
  • Route 920 (West High School): Service suspended.

Ski resorts

  • Route 674 (Powder Mountain): Service suspended.
  • Route 675 (Snowbasin): Service suspended.
  • Route 677 (Snowbasin): Service suspended.
  • Route 880 (Sundance Resort): Service suspended.
  • Route 953 (Snowbird and Alta): Limited service beginning Wednesday.
  • Route 972 (Solitude and Brighton): Limited service beginning Wednesday.
  • Route 994 (Snowbird and Alta): Limited service beginning Wednesday.

Weber County business

  • Route 606 (Weber County): Service suspended.
  • Route 608 (Weber County: Service suspended.

Many bus routes, TRAX, FrontRunner, Via and Paratransit schedules are still running as scheduled. FrontRunner trains will be limited to three passenger cars for the time being.

“We will continue to monitor the recommendations from health experts, closures of schools and facilities, as well as monitoring ridership based on these situation changes. Additional service changes may be required,” Cummins said, as a FrontRunner train bell chimed in the background.

As government leaders continue to limit crowds, Cummins said he understands why many might be skittish to ride public transportation. However, he said crews have taken steps to disinfect as much as possible.

UTA spokesman Carl Arky told on Monday that the agency cleans all its vehicles daily. Cummins added that bus drivers have been given hand sanitizer and that drivers and transit police officers will not be handling passes but doing "visual fare inspections" only.

So why is UTA working to remain running as many other groups are stopping? Gonot explained that many people still rely on the agency for transportation — even if numbers have slid in recent days.

“UTA provides a vital service to the community. Many people depend on us to get where they need to go,” she said. “Events and social gatherings might be canceled but people still need to get to work, to social services and to visit loved ones. While we’re taking multiple precautions to protect riders and our employees, we continue to hear comments from people who need our service.”

She said she’s been in coordination with state and federal experts, as well as transit officials in other metro areas over the past couple of days. She said some other places have reduced service, but UTA hasn’t gotten to that point yet.

Gonot said information about how it will run during the COVID-19 outbreak is updated daily on its website on social media. She also recommended that riders follow health guidelines, such as wash their hands often, avoid touching their face, cough or sneeze in a tissue and stay home if they feel sick.

Contributing: Jay Hancock, KSL TV


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