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After 6 years of free rides, UTA could start charging fares for the Utah Valley Express

A rider awaits the arrival of the UVX at a station in Provo, Utah, March 14, 2024
Tilda Wilson
A rider awaits the arrival of the UVX at a station in Provo, Utah, March 14, 2024

Provo and Orem’s bus rapid transit system, the Utah Valley Express, has been free since it debuted more than five years ago. But that may soon change.

The Utah Transit Authority has proposed a plan to charge $2.50 per ride – the same as most other buses in the system.

At a March 13 virtual public meeting, UTA Chief Planning and Engagement Officer Nichol Bourdeaux said UVX was free at first because of a federal grant.

“After the three-year grant, our trustees worked with Utah County to look at if there is another way to do one or two more years following. And so this is the sixth year, coming up in August, that we have had free fare on UVX.”

But as Fare Director Monica Howe explained, the free fares were not meant to be permanent.

“We have often done free fares for different promotions, and that especially occurs when we have new lines opening.”

As UTA works to expand its bus rapid transit service to other places like Ogden, Howe said after internal discussion “it was determined that after a promotion period that [Bus Rapid Transit services] would resume to regular fares. And that's why that is being proposed now.”

Howe added that the Ogden Express, which has been free since it launched in August 2023, will remain free for the time being.

David Sharp takes UVX to get to his job in Provo every day. He likes the bus because it’s a cheap way to get around. If the fare change goes through he said he “probably would keep riding, but it would suck if they started charging for it.”

Still, UTA estimates that only 10-15% of riders will be paying a full fare if these changes go into effect. Others will continue to get free fares from their enrollment at Utah Valley University or Brigham Young University or are eligible for reduced fares based on income.

As part of the bus rapid transit system, payment would not be accepted by bus drivers directly. Instead, riders will tap on and tap off their student IDs or Farepay cards at stations – the way they currently do at train stations in Salt Lake City.

At the virtual meeting, some attendees expressed concerns about the lack of a cash payment option. Unlike Trax stations, UVX stations do not have cash ticketing machines. Fares must be purchased in advance on Farepay cards.

“When we look at the cost of putting ticket vending machines on the platform, that would require a significant capital investment. And we expect few ticketing vending machine sales,” Howe said.

If the fare change goes into effect, UTA plans on community outreach about the Farepay card, and expanding the locations where they can be purchased or reloaded.

Public comment can be submitted online until March 29. A final decision will be announced in May. If adopted, fares for UVX would start Aug. 18, 2024.

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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