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U. and UTA benefit from partnership

Michael Young, University of Utah president, has been working with the Utah Transit Authority on its latest advertising campaign.
Michael Young, University of Utah president, has been working with the Utah Transit Authority on its latest advertising campaign.
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

University of Utah President Michael Young's wife, Suzan, was recently looking through a copy of U.S. News & World Report magazine and saw a familiar face.

She gave her husband a puzzled look.

" 'I think that's you in there,' like she didn't recognize me or something," Michael Young recalls his wife saying.

But even he didn't know where his face might pop up after working with the Utah Transit Authority on its latest ad campaign.

In the Sept. 12 edition of Sports Illustrated, the words above Young's picture in a full-page ad read, "About 1/4 of our students get here on UTA. And the rest are thinking about it." The U. has 28,000 students.

In the background of the Sports Illustrated ad is the blur of a TRAX train in front of Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Young has been in a Newsweek magazine ad and in local TV spots for UTA. The magazine advertisements were also directed at local readers and did not run everywhere — UTA paid for the ads.

Why just the U. and not other schools?

"We have a TRAX line that runs right through the school," said UTA spokesman Justin Jones. "Their support continues — they're a good partner with UTA."

UTA hopes to increase ridership through the ads, but the U. also has something to gain.

Construction on the U. campus has recently consumed 300 parking spaces while the student and staff population — the U. has 18,000 employees — continues to rise. Some envisioned a parking nightmare this year.

"We were really panicked about what the first day of classes was going to look like," Young said.

Turns out there was not a single parking lot on campus that didn't have vacant spaces, according to Young. One conclusion is that people really are using UTA, he added.

UTA should have a clearer idea next month of just how many people are taking trains and buses to the U. campus this term.

U. officials are getting complaints that trains to the campus are full and people can't get on.

"They don't have enough equipment to go around to satisfy demand," said Norm Chambers, U. assistant vice president of auxiliary services. UTA, he added, is working on a solution.

The relationship between the U. and UTA began in 1991, when the U. began picking up the tab for its students to take buses to school. UTA called the arrangement the Eco Pass program, for its ecological-friendly effect of taking cars off the road.

Now colleges and universities all along the Wasatch Front are working with UTA on the so-called Education Pass program. At the U., for example, a student who takes 12 credit hours a semester also pays a $14.64 transit fee — that fee gets them a pass to ride UTA.

The numbers taking UTA buses and trains to the U. campus these days is around 13,000 — in 1991 about 1,500 to 2,000 people a day rode UTA buses to the U., according to Chambers.

While the ad campaign may have made an impact on ridership, current gas prices have probably influenced some people's decision to choose UTA, Chambers added. "It's just an outstanding value for people."