OGDEN — Despite a recent ridership drop off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ogden City has renewed its downtown trolley contract with the Utah Transit Authority — which means the central city shuttle will continue to be free of charge for at least the next year.
UTA began running the service in Ogden in August 2019, the agency’s third trolley-style circulator bus to be put into service in Davis and Weber counties.
Following similar projects in Layton and Farmington, the free Ogden trolley runs every 20 minutes, originating from the Ogden FrontRunner Station, 2350 Wall Ave. Circulating around the downtown area, the trolley makes stops at places like Lindquist Field, 25th Street, the Ogden Municipal Building, the Ogden Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple and The Junction.
The route runs from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Like the Midtown Trolley in Layton and the Lagoon Trolley in Farmington, the Ogden Trolley is a customized bus designed to resemble a 20th century cable car. Red, with gold and green trim, the trolleys are manufactured by the Gillig Corporation. The vehicles have solid oak seats and brass stanchions which, according to the Gillig website, “combines classic trolley appeal with the quality and contemporary features of our standard transit bus.”
In 2020, Ogden and UTA entered into an agreement that included three one-year city options to fund and renew the free service. UTA Fares Director Monica Morton said that as part of the agreement, Ogden pays 25% of the operating costs of the service. So far in 2020, the city has paid UTA $72,328. With the 2021 renewal, the city will pay UTA another $72,906 to keep the free route running over the next year.
UTA Regional General Manager Andres Colman said prior to the pandemic, average daily ridership on the trolley was about 200 to 250 riders.
“That was quite well and surprising for such a new route,” he said.
Colman said ridership was highest on the trolley on Saturdays, indicating that visitors coming into Ogden, potentially using FrontRunner, were riding the service to get around the downtown area. Ridership has dropped on the route since COVID-19 hit, Colman said, but significantly less than the ridership drops seen on other UTA routes.
“It continues to perform successfully, given the conditions we’re under,” he said.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said the city’s renewal for free service was based on a belief that the route is an important component in the drive for increased mobility around Ogden and that ridership will flourish in the future, particularly when the pandemic is over.
“I think what we’re seeing right now with transit isn’t necessarily reflective of how things will be in the future,” he said. “I think there’s a strong desire for a return to normalcy and when that starts to happen, you’ll see transit ridership increase overall. The thing for us (when deciding to renew the trolley contract) was that we wanted to stay steady and hold on through some of these dips. With something like this, it needs to be consistent, where people can plan their days around it.”
Though Ogden City contributes to the service, the route was made possible in large part by the Proposition 1 ballot measure. The measure, which was passed by voters in November 2015, provides counties that approved it with annual dollars for road projects, sidewalks, bike and pedestrian paths, and increased mass transit service. The local-option tax was on the ballot in 17 of Utah’s 29 counties, passing in 10.
Voters in Weber and Davis counties passed the tax, but it failed in Morgan and Box Elder counties. The tax doesn’t apply to medical bills, utilities, mortgages, loan payments, gas, prescriptions or groceries. Forty percent of the total revenue collected goes to cities, 40% goes to UTA and 20% goes to counties.