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UTA says Election Day free fare plan worked, despite limited number of polling places

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Nov 17, 2020

OGDEN — Despite a limited number of physical polling locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Transit Authority says its free fare Election Day program was a relative success.

And the agency will consider the action again in the future.

UTA Chief Operating Officer Eddy Cumins said ridership on Nov. 3 this year increased across nearly all of the transit agency’s modes while fares were suspended to encourage voting.

In October, UTA’s Board of Trustees passed a measure that allowed for fare-free transit for all Utahns on Election Day, Nov. 3. The measure applied to all UTA bus, TRAX and rail service, and the agency took an estimated $48,000 loss in fare revenue by implementing the plan.

While the measure was pointed at prospective voters, riders didn’t have to provide any proof they were traveling to a polling location, so it’s not exactly clear how many people took advantage of free fares for the explicit purpose of voting. But Cumins said the initial data from Nov. 3 looks promising and the agency will also do a deeper dive on specific routes that served polling locations.

Cumins said in comparison to current average weekday usage, UTA’s ridership increased by 7.3% on Nov. 3, when the agency carried 68,675 total passengers. Bus ridership was up 10% compared to the normal weekday average, Cumins said, and FrontRunner saw a ridership increase of 15%. Bus ridership in Ogden increased by 13% on Election Day.

Due to the pandemic, an increased emphasis was be placed this year on voting by mail. For example, Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties each had only one live polling location for the 2020 general election. UTA officials say the ridership numbers would likely increase during a normal election when more physical polling locations are open.

“I like that we did this and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” said UTA Trustee Beth Holbrook. “I think we should continue to do this. We’ll have to take a look at it for next year and the years following; I think its a great idea.”

According to the Utah elections office, Utah has more than 1.8 million registered voters.

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