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Bill fails to make UTA rides permanently free

Lyman Clark
During Free Fare February, ridership on UTA increased 21% on weekdays and 41% on Saturdays.

A month of free fares on Utah Transit Authority public transportation is coming to an end and it won’t be extended permanently.

A bill to do that, HB 164, did not move forward in a House committee Friday.

During Free Fare February, ridership on UTA increased 21% on weekdays and 41% on Saturdays, according to the agency.

Alex Veilleux, a policy associate with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, said making that permanent would improve air quality.

“This data shows that when given the opportunity, people will make personal choices that address air quality issues on an individual level,” he said. “Removing entry barriers for public transit is an important tool for tackling air quality and mobility issues the state will inevitably face as our growth skyrockets.”

The proposal would have cost UTA between $40 and $50 million in revenue each year. Bill sponsor Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, tried to water down the bill by only requiring free fares for certain bus routes. That would have cut the cost by about half, but it wasn’t enough to convince the committee.

Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, was skeptical about what kind of impact it would actually have.

“I can tell you that the bus has been [free] since I’ve been in Cache County, and that's 15 years, probably, and we still have significant problems with air quality pollution,” Snider said. “Most of the time, the buses are empty, even though they're free.”

The Wasatch Front Regional Council said they are conducting a study on the impacts of free transit and expect it to be complete by September.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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