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UTA Keeps Salt Lake City’s Free Fare Zone

Utah Transit Authority

Utah Transit Authority announced Wednesday that it will be keeping the Free Fare Zone in downtown Salt Lake City on both buses and TRAX.  But the decision leaves some unresolved issues for the UTA.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter says the agency originally proposed ending free bus fares in downtown Salt Lake City because of security concerns and because the free fares cost the cash-strapped agency about $200,000 a year in lost revenue.  But some Salt Lake City Council members and other downtown stakeholders wanted to keep the free service.  Carpenter says the UTA listened.    

“Ultimately we think this decision, and the operational change we’re proposing for buses is a win-win for everyone,” Carpenter told KUER, “It will help us accomplish some of our goals while maintaining that free benefit.”

The operational change is this: Beginning December 9th, passengers will be required to pay fares as they board or tell the driver where they are going within the Free Fare Zone.  Until now, bus riders starting a trip within the Zone were required to pay at the end of the trip, instead of at the beginning.  Carpenter says that allowed some to skip out on fares, or get into confrontations with drivers.  While the new fare collection process addresses that issue, Carpenter says the agency still has ongoing security concerns associated with the Free Fare Zone.

“Because our buses and TRAX are free in the downtown area, it limits our ability to control access to platforms and to vehicles,” Carpenter said, “There are people out there who abuse the system, they ride buses or TRAX, or spend time on our platform, engaged in activities other than what it was intended for, transportation.”

The other ongoing issue is that the UTA generally doesn’t have enough revenue to pay for expenses. 

“We’re struggling just like everyone in this economy to make ends meet,” said Carpenter, “So, a lost $200,000 is not a huge amount when you’re talking the type of budget that we have, but it is a cost, and we’ll have to make up that money elsewhere.”

Carpenter says the agency is currently working on their budget, and will likely make up the lost revenue by eliminating bus trips that have low ridership, but he says there are no plans to eliminate entire routes.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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