SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority is restoring some light rail frequency, as well as some of its heaviest-used bus routes, as it continues to move along amid significant drops in ridership created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the agency is proposing changes to its fare structure. A single bus ride will remain $2.50, but the agency is proposing slight cuts in cost for express busses and premium monthly passes and round-trip fares; and slight increases to ski buses and Park City Express, as well as regular monthly passes.
Monica Morton, fares director for UTA, said in an online public meeting Thursday that the agency is seeking the changes in an effort to create a simple, uniform fare system that — as it stands — can be complicated.
If approved, officials said in a UTA Board meeting Wednesday that they hope to have the new fare system up and running on Nov. 1.
Upcoming changes to TRAX, FrontRunner and bus schedules
UTA regularly changes route times and makes schedule adjustments every few months. Its next “schedule change day” is slated for Aug. 23, which is when TRAX and FrontRunner frequency will be sped up at least on weekdays, and a handful of bus routes will be restored, temporarily suspended or reduced.
The most noticeable change might be on TRAX and S-Line. Beginning Aug. 23, the light rail system’s frequency will return to a 15-minute schedule on weekdays until about 6 or 7 p.m. After that, trains will resume moving every 30 minutes until the end of the day, as it has been since April 5.
TRAX and S-Line service will continue to run on a 30-minute schedule on weekends but service will be eliminated on Sundays beginning after 7 or 8 p.m. starting on Aug. 23.
FrontRunner trains will also return to pre-COVID-19 routines during some parts of weekdays. Trains will run every 30 minutes during rush hour on weekdays and every 60 minutes midday and evenings. It remains every 60 minutes on Saturdays.
UVX in Utah County will run every 10 minutes on weekdays from 7 a.m. through 8 p.m. with no service after 11 p.m. UVX between Provo Central Station and East Bay will run every 18 minutes and riders will have to transfer if they are traveling south of the station.
Bus service will be improved or restored for many routes, in some cases back to schedules before the COVID-19 pandemic. The seven routes returning to mostly pre-coronavirus schedules are:
- Route 455 (University of Utah-Davis County-Weber State University)
- Route 470 (Ogden-Salt Lake Intercity)
- Route 650 (Weber State University Ogden fast bus)
- Route 805 (Santaquin-Payson-Spanish Fork-Provo Station-Utah Valley University)
- Route 806 (Eagle Mountain-Saratoga Springs-Lehi Station-Utah Valley University)
- Route 807 (North Country-Lehi Station-Utah Valley University)
- Router 822 (South Utah County-BYU-Utah Valley University limited)
Major schedule changes are also coming for Route 2 (200 South), Route 9 (900 South), Route 21 (2100 South), Route 33 (3300 South), Route 35 (3500 South), Route 39 (3900 South), Route 200 (State State North), Route 209 (900 East) and Route 217 (Redwood Road) in Salt Lake County.
All nine routes will return to running every 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekday evenings. Service will run from 4 a.m. to midnight during the weekdays and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends for those routes.
Route 603 (Weber State University-McKay Dee), Route 612 (Washington Boulevard) will also return to running every 15 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays in Weber County. Route 850 (State Street) in Utah County will return to 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30-60 minutes on weekday evenings.
Bus route 472 (Riverdale-Salt Lake Express) is the only route the UTA is temporarily suspending starting on Aug. 23, due to low ridership. The last bus will run on Aug. 21; UTA officials advise using Route 470 after the change date.
Other bus routes that will remain suspended are:
- MAX bus
- Route 2X (200 South Express)
- Route 307 (Cottonwood Heights fast bus)
- Route 313 (South Valley-University of Utah fast bus)
- Route 320 (Highland Drive fast bus)
- Route 354 (Sandy-University of Utah fast bus)
- Route 456 (Ogden-Unisys-Rocky Mountain Express)
- Route 460 (Woods Cross)
- Route 461 (Bountiful via State Capitol)
- Route 462 (North Salt Lake)
- Route 463 (West Bountiful)
- Route 471 (Centerville)
- Route 526 (12600 South)
- Route F534 (Herriman Flex Shuttle)
- Route 606 (Enable Industries-Monroe Boulevard)
- Route 608 (DTSI-2nd Street)
- Route 616 (North Weber FrontRunner Shuttle)
- Route 809 (Pleasant Grove/American Fork)
- Route 864 (Lehi Station/Thanksgiving Point)
- Route 919 (Fairpark-West High School)
- Route 920 (Rose Park-West High School)
A full list of UTA schedule adjustments can be found here.
The changes come as the agency reports some bounceback in ridership of its services, which remain well below where it was at before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bus routes, FrontRunner and TRAX remain between 64-78% below ridership prior to COVID-19 but have all seen increases in ridership since April 7. FrontRunner is up 75% since then, while bus services are up 34%. Light rail has moved up 19% since then, according to figures produced during Wednesday’s UTA Board meeting.
Paratransit (211%) and micro transit (102%) have the largest increases in usage since April but both remain well before ridership prior to COVID-19.
“Obviously we still have a long way to go but overall, system-wide, ridership is up 32% when compared to our April 7 quote,” said Eddy Cummins, UTA chief operations officer, during the meeting. “I’m excited because as we look toward August, I think we’re going to see another bump in ridership with service restoration.”
Proposed changes to fare system
How people pay for bus rides may soon change as well, under a new proposal to make the fare structure simpler. Morton explained that the changes were envisioned before COVID-19 and because UTA wanted to create a fare structure that was simple, seamless, efficient and sustainable.
The regular bus fare will remain $2.50 for adults but premium bus services will be set at $5, should the fare proposal pass. Children under 5 years old will still be allowed to ride for free. FrontRunner and Paratransit fares wouldn’t change.
Fare for the Ski Bus and Park City Express would be bumped up from $4.50 to $5 and express bus routes would decrease from $5.50 to $5. Round trips would be replaced with a day pass instead, which drops round trips from $6.25 to $5 under the proposal.
“Currently, the only round-trip product is on TRAX and we want to simplify fare payment, especially for customers who use transit all day,” Morton said.
Regular and premium monthly passes would be determined on base fare multiplied by 34 under this change. So for a pass user to break even on their purchase, they would have to use transit 34 times during the month.
Regular passes are set on a daily fare of $2.50 and premium passes on a daily fare of $5. It ultimately means the cost of a regular monthly pass would go from $83.75 to $85, while premium monthly passes would drop from $198 to $170.
“We’ve looked at data and it shows that customers using a monthly pass take (transit) about five or six days a week. If we translate that into trips, it’s between 40 and 48 trips per month, and our goal with monthly passes is to provide an incentive for those customers frequently using transit,” Morton said. “We’ll do this by offering a discount between 15% to 30%. The multiplier of 34 keeps the price within the discount range that we’ve established.”
She said that ski bus service is included in premium monthly passes. In addition, UTA and Salt Lake City officials are still discussing whether there will be changes to HIVE pass pricing in the future. HIVE is the program between the city’s government and transit agency.
UTA’s proposal also seeks to align discounts together. For example, youth and Horizon cardholder passes are currently 25% off but would change to 50% off to match senior, Medicare and disability discounts. All monthly passes for those groups would be $42.50.
FAREPAY discounts on busses would drop from 40% to 20% to match TRAX and FrontRunner discounts. This means bus fare through FAREPAY would move from $1.50 to $2 but premium bus rides would drop from $4.40 to $4. Low-income monthly passes would also drop from $62.75 to $42.50.
Other proposed changes include dropping Park City 30-day passes and Flex Route deviation punch passes.
During Thursday’s meeting, Morton said UTA has explored the possibility of moving to a cashless system but will continue to accept cash because it’s the only way to accommodate some riders who can only pay in that form.
The public has until Aug. 21 to provide feedback on the changes, which can be submitted on UTA’s website.