Utah Transit Authority is proposing to eliminate the bus free fare zone for the downtown area. On June 19 UTA held a Twitter chat with the public, answering questions and discussing the possible effects it will have on the community.
The free fare zone area covers 600 West to 200 East and from North Temple to 500 South in Salt Lake City. The change would affect students attending the Library Square campus as well as SLCC’s Community Writing Center who depend on the service to get around in the downtown area.
“Part of the problem with it [at the Library Square Campus] is that the price of the subsidized passes have gone up recently,” said Sean Carmack, a SLCC staff member at Library Square Campus. “I don’t know how many of the students come from the downtown area and ride the free fare but I know it would probably be fairly detrimental to a lot of students.”
UTA cites on their blog that many of the bus free fare zones are all within walking distance of TRAX stations. According to UTA, TRAX will remain free within this zone and expresses that this shouldn’t affect many of its riders as many of them will be able to take TRAX instead.
In order to be able to use the city’s rights of way for TRAX, UTA made a deal with Salt Lake City in 1996 to provide free bus and light rail service in the downtown area for 100 years. UTA now proposes paying the city $100,000 to stop the free service. They report they are losing about $200,000 every year in revenue from the service.
UTA said during the Twitter chat that this issue was not solely about revenue alone but it was also a security and safety issue. They responded saying that “20% of the people riding were using the system for purposes other than transit” referring to drug dealing taking place on the buses and that they have had “numerous incidents of criminal behavior.”
On the UTA blog they cite that many of their operators have had to confront passengers that have not paid after leaving the free fare zone and that some of those passengers have “become agitated and aggressive.”
Part of the concern of those who oppose the elimination of the free fare zone is the effects on the lower income and homeless population who take advantage of the free public transportation to get around the downtown area.
“The city library is one of the last few public spaces open to everyone,” said Andrea Malouf, director of the SLCC Community Writing Center at Library Square. “What happens is people who are low income have a hard enough time getting here because of the meter prices have all changed and the parking down below is really expensive.”
Malouf expressed her concern about how the change would hurt their work with many people throughout the community. She said that it can be hard for people from lower incomes to get to the library without the free fare zones. This was a big concern among some of the public who participated during the Twitter chat.
UTA posted on their blog about new low-income programs they have instituted in the last year and of providers that they offer discounted fare to.
Students can purchase an Ed-Pass that provides discounted fares. The change to the downtown service would not take in effect until August of this year after negotiations are worked out through the city.
UTA will hold a public hearing regarding the bus free fare zone on Thursday, June 21 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the UTA FrontLines Headquarters at 669 W. 200 S. in Salt Lake City.