The Salt Lake County Council is correct: The Utah Transit Authority should retreat from discussions to double Flextrans fares and eliminate $32 monthly passes for the service.
UTA has bungled this matter on several levels, but the most egregious oversight was not consulting UTA's own advisory committee for the disabled before going public with the issue. After all, who would the issue most impact, if not people with disabilities who rely on public transportation?
While doubling the fee from $1 to $2 a ride might not seem a big obstacle to most people, many people with disabilities live on very low incomes such as $400 or $500 a month. Seemingly, the small amount of new revenue that UTA could generate from the fare increase would not justify the financial burden on many of its riders.
After obtaining a quarter-cent sales tax increase at the polls for transit last November and a $24 million package from the Legislature to embark on commuter rail, it is difficult for UTA to make a case that it has no wiggle room in its budget. While much of UTA's new revenue is earmarked for specific purposes and couldn't be used for Flextrans, it is nonetheless a political problem for the taxing authority to appear to be leaning on a particular population to bear the cost of specialized transportation.
Even if UTA charged $2 a ride for Flextrans, it will still be subsidizing the service to a large degree. One Paratransit ride costs about $30. One has to question whether an additional dollar per ride would make that much difference to UTA's coffers.
Given that equation, at least one member of the County Council has suggested that UTA consider eliminating fares for the disabled completely. This is an issue that UTA should give thoughtful consideration.
But as the County Council has recommended, UTA would do well to push this issue to back burner. Between light rail and the move to commuter rail, it would appear that UTA has plenty of other issues to contend with, let alone considering a fare increase among people who can least afford it.