OGDEN — After four months of reduced transit operations brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Utah Transit Authority is set to restore the majority of its service.
Laura Hansen, UTA director of planning, said the agency is scheduled to bring back 91% of the transit service that was cut or limited due to low ridership numbers spurred by the pandemic.
On April 5, in part as a response to what were already significant declines in ridership, UTA began scaling back service systemwide. According to data supplied by UTA, from early March through July 10, daily ridership on fixed bus routes has gone down 64% compared to average weekday boarding numbers seen before the pandemic. FrontRunner ridership is down 79%.
But with universities planning to reopen in the fall and other activities gradually reopening, Hanson said UTA staff has developed a new service plan that will go into effect on Aug. 23. Hanson said the new service plan restores much of the service that was reduced in April.
“We are bringing a lot of that service back,” Hanson said. “We’re following the economy as it opens up. We know people rely on public transit, so we are bringing a large amount of service back onto the street.”
Shortly after the April 5 service cuts, UTA created a six-member “recovery team” tasked with increasing ridership, restoring financial stability and regaining community confidence. This agency surveyed employees, individual customers, and local companies and government agencies that purchase a large number of transit passes for their workers. Hanson said the team focused on bringing back service to match demand and ensure a solid financial position within the agency.
According to UTA Board of Trustees documents, the restoration plans are estimated to cost approximately $129 million over the course of the next year.
UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot said that while the agency will continue to track data, noting which routes are seeing high ridership, an emphasis will be put on sustainability of individual routes.
“We don’t want to have to do a yo-yo,” Hanson added. “Put service back, then take it away.”
As part of the restoration plan, popular Ogden bus routes like the 603, which runs between the Ogden downtown transit center and Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital, will be fully restored to pre-COVID-19 levels. FrontRunner will be restored partially, making all of its normal stops, but with slightly lower frequency. The same goes for Route 612, bus service along Washington Boulevard.
“We’ll be watching the data and will bring those back (to full service) as the market demands,” Hanson said.
Some routes continue with current levels of reduced service, while some will remain suspended indefinitely, like the northern Weber County FrontRunner shuttle bus.
For a full list of route information, visit rideuta.com.
The UTA board is expected to approve the service restoration plan on July 22.