SALT LAKE CITY — Cars and trucks might have to begin paying closer attention to buses merging into traffic if a bill proposed by the Utah Transit Authority makes it into law.
Senate Bill 121 was originally proposed by UTA’s union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 382. The bill is sponsored by Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, a former UTA board member.
SB 121 would modify the state traffic code by making it mandatory for vehicles to yield to UTA buses when the buses are merging back into traffic after making a bus stop.
The current state law is exactly the opposite of the bill, as merging buses are now required to yield to oncoming vehicles in all cases.
The bill would require that bus operators signal when ready to merge back into traffic and doesn’t relieve the operator of the duty to drive safely and with regard to all roadway users.
UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said similar bills have recently been passed in Colorado, Florida and Oregon.
Other places, such as New Jersey and San Francisco, have required that cars yield to buses for several years.
Carpenter said there are many reasons the bill makes sense, but that the basic concept is to give right-of-way priority on the roads to vehicles carrying a larger number of passengers.
“It would allow us to better maintain our schedule,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes during peak commute hours on a busy street, it can take some time for a bus to be able to merge back into traffic. Obviously, if buses had the right of way, they’d be able to get right back into the flow of traffic after making a stop.”
Carpenter also said the law would mean less idling time for buses, which would be better for air quality.
“Air quality is a big deal in this region,” Carpenter said. “So any small step we can take to reduce emissions is something we’re interested in.”
Carpenter said the bill’s passage would help level the playing field between public transit and the automobile.
“To get people to choose public transit, we have to make it as appealing as possible,” he said. “This (bill’s passage) would be a good step in that direction.”