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Free Fare February data shows UTA program’s success

By Genelle Pugmire - Daily Herald | Apr 6, 2022

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

Passengers climb onto a Utah Transit Authority bus on Washington Boulevard in Ogden on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.

It appears, by the data, that more people will ride public transportation when it is free.

On Wednesday, Utah Transit Authority released the numbers on ridership during the Free Fare February promotion. During that month, all transit modes provided by UTA offered free rides to the public, including buses, Trax and FrontRunner.

“UTA, Salt Lake City and its partners conducted an extensive Free Fare February public awareness campaign throughout the month,” said Carl Arky, UTA spokesman. “The results of Free Fare February are significant and positive.”

The report shows that ridership averages on all UTA services increased by large margins compared with January. Weekday ridership saw a 16% overall gain, marked by 35.7% more riders on FrontRunner and 23% more using UTA On Demand.

Saturday ridership was up 58% with increases of 74.5% on TRAX and 202% on FrontRunner. Average ridership on Sundays increased 32.5% overall and 144% on UTA On Demand alone.

“The success of Free Fare February proves that people are far more likely to ride public transit when barriers like cost are removed and I can’t wait to work with our partners to find more opportunities to expand free transit,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said. “UTA and all of our partners have been tremendous for buying into this idea and making an air quality advocate’s dream come true.”

UTA conducted a survey of more than 5,000 riders during Free Fare February. Over half of riders surveyed said they were riding UTA because it was free, and 87% said they were likely to ride more if UTA services were always free.

Nearly 22% of riders were using transit for the first time. Surveyed riders’ comments were 82% positive, with cost effectiveness and quality of life benefit being most frequently mentioned by riders.

“The goals of Free Fare February were to reduce emissions during a traditionally poor air quality month, and to commemorate the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics. Every trip taken by UTA riders reduces pollution from using personal vehicles,” Arky said.

The air quality benefit increased significantly during February — as much as 67% according to UTA’s analysis.

“We’re proud to work with our state, regional, and local partners for cleaner air in Utah,” said UTA board of trustees Chair Carlton Christensen. “Free Fare February was a success. Transit is part of a healthier, vibrant quality of life in Utah. We encourage everyone to ride UTA instead of driving, you can help counter the negative effects of harmful pollution and reduce congestion on our roads and highways.”

The idea was broached at the suggestion of Mendenhall in December. After discussions with partners across the Wasatch Front, the UTA board of trustees added its support for the plan toward the end of January.


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