UTA’s “Free Fare February” reduced air pollution and increased transit ridership

“About 68 tons of pollution was kept out of the air,” according to UTA Board Trustee Jeff Acerson.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) People wear masks while waiting for the Trax train on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

Ridership soared during the Utah Transit Authority’s pilot program, “Free Fare February,” the effort to make public transportation more accessible and air quality improved.

That’s according to a final report released by UTA this week on the ridership and environmental results of the month-long initiative.

“About 68 tons of pollution was kept out of the air, which represents an improvement of about 21% in pollution savings over the previous month,” said Jeff Acerson, administrator of the board of directors. of the UTA, which represents Tooele and Utah counties. “That’s why public transit is such an essential part of this, because you bring more people to a [transit] system rather than more cars on the highways.

The report notes that “more people using public transport equals fewer car journeys and less air pollution produced”.

Around 95% of passengers said they were aware of free rides that month, according to a survey of more than 5,000 travellers. Almost a quarter of travelers surveyed said they were commuting to work, compared to 20.8% of passengers who said they rode for entertainment; 16.2% of runners who said they visited family and friends; 14.9% of runners who said they go shopping; and 13% who said they went to school and 6.6% who said they went to health care visits.

Overall, weekday ridership was up 16% and Saturday ridership was up 58.1% over January figures. The biggest increase in traffic was seen at FrontRunners on Saturday, where usage was up 202% from last month.

Acerson noted that historically high gas prices could also force people to ditch their cars and use public transportation instead.

To make fares free in February, UTA sought to raise around $2.4 million. Approximately $1.1 million was sponsored by organizations such as Wasatch Front Regional Council, Mountainland Association of Governments, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, and Utah Air Quality Division .

During the 2022 legislative session, State Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill that would allow the Utah Transit Authority to provide free rides to residents. The bill, which did not pass, would have cost about $50 million a year to fund, according to a financial analysis of the legislation.

“I think the study helps us collect data that allows leaders, the legislature, and us as an organization to see how we can better meet the transportation and state needs of Utah and managing the air quality that is essential for citizens,” Acerson said.

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