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UTA plan drawing fire

Mayoral candidates unhappy with bus system redesign

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Five candidates for Salt Lake City mayor say the Utah Transit Authority could have done better in planning its bus-system redesign in Salt Lake County.

During a forum Wednesday at the office of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese, the candidates heard from residents who are upset about the proposed redesign. The candidates then offered their ideas about the plan.

House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City, wants the agency to go back and talk to riders, hold public hearings, and then come out with a proposal. He said UTA did not include input from riders when drafting the plan.

"UTA needs to understand that when it starts a process like this, it should not start with a proposal," Becker said.

Former Salt Lake City Councilman Keith Christensen and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said the agency should look at using smaller buses or vans in areas where the number of riders is low. City Councilwoman Nancy Saxton said that UTA has designed its system to focus on commuters and that the city should eliminate free parking during Christmas to subsidize buses.

Surgeon J.P. Hughes said he would like to see buses operate for longer hours.

The forum was sponsored by the Crossroads Urban Center, a low-income advocacy group in Salt Lake City. Crossroads has been an active opponent of the redesign and has participated in several public hearings about the plan.

Under the redesign plan, bus routes in the county will be reduced from 98 to 80. Routes will be taken out of city neighborhoods and moved onto busier streets, causing people to walk longer distances to catch a ride.

UTA says it is confident that riders will find the system more reliable, convenient, faster and easier to use after the redesign. The agency has received just over 2,000 comments about the plan. About 65 percent of the comments criticized the redesign, while 35 percent praised it, according to UTA.

Public comment on the redesign has ended, but UTA is still gathering public input about proposed fare increases. The increases will range from 25 cents to $1.50 when fully implemented in 2009. In addition, UTA is also proposing that the base fare for commuter rail be $2.50, with an additional 50-cent charge for every station passed.

For more information about both the fare increases and the redesign, log on to: www.rideuta.com. Comments about the fare increase can be sent to: ihuntsman@rideuta.com.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com