The Utah Transit Authority is completely redesigning its Salt Lake County bus system this summer, with current routes consolidated from 117 to 54, some neighborhood buses cut, and more frequent service added.
UTA hopes the end result is a better bus system that will attract more riders and be more convenient and reliable. The redesign will go into effect August 26.
For the past 10 years, bus ridership in Salt Lake County has fallen about 16 percent. UTA's current average ridership is about 57,000 a day.
Major changes to Salt Lake County's bus system have not been made since 1970, when it was first designed. That design is now "obsolete," UTA general manager John Inglish said Friday at a news conference to unveil the redesign.
"It no longer meets the needs of our riders," he said
UTA is proposing to add 12 bus routes that will pick up riders every 15 minutes. The agency currently has two routes that run every 15 minutes: the bus that runs up State Street and the shuttle to the State Capitol.
Route numbers will also be changed to better reflect the location where buses run. Instead of Route 15 running along 300 East, it may be Route 3, or Route 300. And buses that run at night will no longer have a different route number than daytime buses that serve the same area.
In addition, routes will run in sort of a north-south, east-west grid system. UTA says it will allow riders to make a transfer to TRAX or a different bus in eight minutes or less.
With the current system, some transfers can take up to 30 minutes or more, said Jeff Harris, UTA's deputy chief of asset management.
"We are designing a system that gives better service to more people," Harris said.
But the proposed changes have also prompted concerns among some residents. On Friday morning, UTA held a meeting with several low-income and disabled-rights advocates, who worried the changes were meant to serve commuters and not people who rely on the bus to move around.
Barbara Toomer, founder of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, said Friday that she thought the changes might have adverse effects for people with disabilities who have become familiar with certain routes.
"I generally am not very resistant to change," she said, "but I really worry when they try and take 117 routes and cut it to 54 routes."
Bill Tibbetts, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center, said Friday that he was pleased UTA might be making the bus more of a focus than TRAX. But, like Toomer, he worried that the changes might be more focused on commuters, not needy riders.
"There are fairly populated areas on the west side of Salt Lake County where people currently have to walk two miles to get to a bus stop," Tibbetts said. "With this plan's emphasis on speeding up service, that situation could get worse."
Tibbetts said he plans to meet with the members of Crossroads Urban Center and distribute copies of UTA's planned changes. He also will attend several public hearings on the redesign that UTA has scheduled throughout March.
The first public hearing is March 6 in West Jordan. To view a copy of the public meeting schedule, and see copies of maps and proposed route changes, log on to www.rideuta.com/schedulesAndMaps/2007routeChanges/.