'It's a necessity': UTA announces bus, ski service cuts amid growing driver shortages

Skiers board a Utah Transit Authority bus Route 953 on Wasatch Boulevard in Cottonwood Heights on Jan. 24, 2021. The bus route is one of three that will be suspended in December, UTA announced Wednesday.

Skiers board a Utah Transit Authority bus Route 953 on Wasatch Boulevard in Cottonwood Heights on Jan. 24, 2021. The bus route is one of three that will be suspended in December, UTA announced Wednesday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority is again planning to shift around some bus service frequencies and services amid a growing shortage of drivers.

The agency announced Wednesday that it will amend 17 bus route schedules or routes, and suspend three routes altogether beginning on Dec. 11, the agency's next route change day. Route 650, a fast bus service from Ogden Station to Weber State University; Route 901, a seasonal bus route from Salt Lake City to Park City; and Route 953, a ski service route from Midvale to Snowbird and Alta resorts, are the three suspended routes.

The amended routes and schedules were announced as the agency continues to suffer from employee shortages. It's currently down about 85 bus drivers in the Salt Lake, Davis and Weber county service areas, including 65 drivers in the Salt Lake County area alone, UTA spokesman Carl Arky told KSL.com.

"The changes are nothing that we were hoping to do or looking to do. It's a necessity simply because of the shortage in bus operators that we're experiencing right now," he said. "So because of that, we want to make sure that we're maintaining as much possible service as we can and across the board to as many of the riders as we can possibly can."

Local and regional route changes

Most of the changes involve the schedules of local and regional routes from Salt Lake to Weber counties, which reduces the number of buses needed on a given day.

  • Route 39 (West Valley Central Station to 3900 South in Millcreek): 15-minute service is now 30-minute service
  • Route 201 (Murray Central Station to South Jordan Station): 30-minute service is now 60-minute service
  • Route 218 (West Jordan City Center Station to South Jordan Station): 30-minute service is now 60-minute service
  • Route 240 (West Valley Central Station to Salt Lake Community College via Jordan Landing): 15-minute service is now 30-minute service. The route will also have some adjustments
  • Route 455 (University of Utah to Weber State University): Some trips suspended
  • Route 470 (Salt Lake City to Ogden): Some trips suspended
  • Route 603 (Ogden Station to McKay-Dee Hospital): Some trips suspended
  • Route 612 (South Ogden to North Ogden): Some trips suspended
  • Route 625 (Ogden-Weber Technical College to South Ogden): 30-minute service is now 60-minute service
  • Route 640 (Layton Hills Mall to Weber State University): Some trips suspended
  • Route 645 (Dee Events Center Station to Harrisville): 30-minute service is now 60-minute service

Ski route changes

UTA's other Salt Lake City to Park City ski bus, Route 902, will run from 3900 South and Wasatch Boulevard to Park City, beginning on Dec. 11. That means the Park City ski service routes will be unavailable in downtown Salt Lake City and at the University of Utah this winter. Riders will instead have to use local bus routes to transfer at the Millcreek terminus if they want to reach Park City.

Most of the changes, however, revolve around frequencies and schedules. For instance, Routes 972 (Midvale to Solitude/Brighton) and 994 (Sandy to Snowbird/Alta) will run every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes, as the routes have in the past. It might not be ideal but it beats an alternative to removing the service altogether, Arky said.

"We're trying to strike a balance here to try and maintain the service, that it doesn't go away completely, but we have to make some adjustments because we simply don't have enough bus operators right now."

Meanwhile, Routes 674 (Ogden to Powder Mountain), 675 (Ogden to Snowbasin) and 677 (Layton to Snowbasin) in northern Utah will run at different times than before. UTA says that the schedules will be "restructured" to have more mid-day trips and fewer peak trips.

A problem not going away soon

Wednesday's announcement follows similar staff shortage-related changes that went into effect during the August change day. The agency merged some of its key routes and cut 22 bus routes altogether to account for driver shortages while also trying to keep service across all the areas it traditionally has.

"It's getting to a point right now that it's just untenable to keep asking the people who are still with us to keep working overtime hours, to catch a shift here, to catch a shift there — supervisors are having to jump into the buses and drive those to keep the buses going and on schedule," Arky explained. "That's not a long-term solution. We had to look at ways to strike a balance."

Really, UTA finds itself in the same position as many other Utah businesses. The state unemployment rate has remained steady at 2% for months, which has made it difficult for some businesses, like UTA, to attract workers.

The agency has made some changes, such as paying new drivers as they go through training for the first time, Arky said. He added that the next UTA budget will look into ways to attract or retain drivers, whether that's changes to pay, benefits or anything else.

That said, there is no indication that the shortage will be resolved anytime soon, either. Arky admits that it could take until at least the August 2023 change day before regular services return.

"This isn't something that can be resolved in the short-term, so we've had to make some painful decisions," he said. "It's going to be a process."

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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