During the month of February 2022, all UTA services are available for everyone and can be used free of charge for Free Fare February. This includes all UTA bus and train services.
The initiative is led by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and made possible by sponsors that include government agencies and local businesses.
UTA spokesman Carl Arky says they hope more people try public transport as long as it’s free. No extra steps are needed to enjoy the event – it’s as easy as hopping on board.
“We hope more people will try it and see it because once they do, they’ll find it’s really, really easy,” Arky said.
Arky says that while UTA has had free days in the past for several years, it’s never been more than a day or two at a time. Mendenhall approached UTA about the idea, working with the chairman of the board to bring it to life.
Arky describes Mendenhall as an “advocate” for clean air and cites cleaner air as his goal of the month.
“Generally, January and February are the two worst months of the year. [for air pollution]”, said Arky. “Let’s encourage the use of public transport so that more and more people use it and take more cars off the road, which means less air pollution, which means a cleaner air. purer.”
Although he says it’s too early to draw conclusions, Arky said UTA is monitoring ridership statistics extensively and has already noted an initial increase in ridership at the start of the event at free rate.
“We saw an initial increase of approximately 15% in ridership for the first week of February, compared to the first week of January,” Arky said.
The event occurs at a time when a The bill introduced in the 2022 state legislative session would make the move to free public transportation permanent. HB 164, sponsored by Rep. Joel Briscoe, expands an earlier bill he sponsored that removes fares on poor air quality days to encourage people to take public transit instead of cars .
The Salt Lake representative estimated the cost of completing the bill at between $30 million and $50 million.
Arky says the UTA is not taking a position on the bill as an organization and will simply provide information so the legislature can make a decision. He says the passenger fare is 15% of UTA’s budget.
“[Most of] the money to run the UTA comes from sales tax revenue, but about 15% comes from fare revenue, so it’s not negligible,” Arky said. “When we do these free days, there has to be funding to step in and replace lost revenue.”
This replacement comes from voluntary government and commercial sponsors. Money from tariffs is needed to help cover operating costs.
“It doesn’t matter who pays for it, you have to buy fuel, you have to have people who maintain the vehicles, run them, support staff supporting them,” Arky said.
Free fare is not a new concept for University of Utah students and faculty, who have long had access to free rides on UTA and TRAX through their Ucards.
Maggie Pozo, a freshman biomedical engineering major at U, says she often uses UTA buses to get around when she leaves campus. Pozo lives in student housing in Kahlert Village.
“I use the bus to go to the store, or if I need to go to my drum lessons…if I’m going home for the weekend or just this afternoon,” Pozo said.
Pozo says the biggest draw for her using UTA is convenience.
“I don’t have a car, and even then it’s very difficult to park on campus, especially in housing where parking is very limited,” Pozo said.
Having used UTA in high school, Pozo noticed the financial difference the access students have with their UID made.
“I used to have to pay for a pass every month, and it definitely wasn’t cheap because I used it to and from school and it adds up,” Pozo said. “Just knowing that I don’t have to pay every time I have to get on the bus really helps because I don’t have to worry about additional costs over time.”
Jenny Nguyen, a freshman psychology student at U, is a student from the suburbs who takes TRAX to campus for her twice-weekly in-person classes.
“I live very far from campus and I don’t want [drive] to and from school every day, so the TRAX is more convenient for me,” Nguyen said. “I can’t imagine paying like $2.50 every day just to go to school…that would be a really big inconvenience, and since I’m a student, I don’t really have any money.”
Both Pozo and Nguyen said they would support the bill in the Legislative Assembly paying the free UTA fare for the general public.
“I think that would be honestly, really amazing,” Pozo said. “My sister worked at U, so she was able to use the bus for free and she commuted to work all the time. But now that she works downtown, she has to pay to use the bus.
Arky says the partnership between UTA and the U is valuable for all parties involved.
“It’s extremely meaningful for UTA to have this kind of traffic…it’s heavily used by U students, staff and administrative employees to get up on campus,” Arky said. “It’s in everyone’s interest. It’s good for UTA, it’s good for the students and it’s good for the U of U, they don’t have to build more parking lots or more roads.