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After Dismal Air Pollution, Officials Team Up For ‘Free Fare Friday’

Nicole Nixon / KUER

Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold said he was inspired — or rather, disgusted — by the air pollution that hung over the Wasatch Front for most of last week. 

So, he floated an idea with the rest of the city council, UTA, and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams: "Free Fare Friday."

Utahns will have free access to light rail and buses this Friday, Dec. 22, thanks to a new partnership with the Utah Transit Authority and the Salt Lake officials.

“It’s simple,” Penfold said. “All day this Friday, your ride is on us.”

That’s going to cover all UTA riders—not just those in the Salt Lake area. Just days before Christmas, Friday will be one of the busiest shopping days of the year.  

Utah Transit Authority CEO Jerry Benson said he gets asked all the time why UTA can’t provide free service on red air quality days.

“UTA uses fare revenue to pay for service, so it’s hard for us to do on our own,” he said. “Efforts like this, though, show that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The Salt Lake City Council, County Mayor Ben McAdams and UTA have agreed to foot the $70,000 bill for one day of free service. The council and McAdams’ office will each pay $27,500, while UTA will absorb the remaining $15,000.

They acknowledged that one day of free fares won’t solve all the Wasatch Front’s air quality issues. But McAdams said it’s a good way for potential riders to give transit a try and get familiar with it.

He hopes it “will be a catalyst for them to start to change behavior and find out that it’s pretty easy and pretty pleasant to do,” he said. “It just takes that first try.”

About half of Utah’s air pollution comes from vehicles, so officials hope the so-called ‘Free Fare Friday’ won’t be a one-time thing once the next inversion sets in. 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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