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UTA considering new fare options

People board the train train at Salt Lake City's Intermodal Hub on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.
People board the train train at Salt Lake City's Intermodal Hub on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The state’s largest transit agency is in the midst of a plan to devise the fairest fare system.

Over the past year, the Utah Transit Authority has gathered and studied information about various fare structures in an effort to identify future fare policies that could best serve rider needs.

Speaking Wednesday at UTA headquarters, vice president of communications Andrea Packer told the board of directors the agency has considered several fare options in its ongoing evaluation process, including distance-, boarding- and mode-based fares.

Distance-based fares charge riders based on how many miles they travel but does not include transfers. A boarding-based fare charges a low fare each time you board a transit vehicle and also does not include transfers.

However, mode-based fares charge a flat fee based on the mode of travel being used, while allowing for transfer.

Packer said UTA has collected feedback from thousands of riders over the past several months through onboard, online and telephone surveys, numerous focus groups, social media, stakeholder interviews and the agency’s online forum, Open UTA.

The agency also conducted a distance-based fare pilot program in Utah County near the BYU campus from August 2014 to April 2015 to test the technical aspects of the system.

Packer said UTA "overwhelmingly" heard that riders value service and simplicity, with the majority of people consistently expressing the desire for a simple, easy-to-understand fare structure with predictable prices.

Respondents also said they want to keep transfers as part of the fare structure, and they like the idea of time-based fares that could include daily, weekly or monthly caps on total transit charges, she added.

In response, Packer said the agency is revising the numerous potential fare scenarios and preparing for a second round of public outreach.

“It’s our plan at this point to refine the scenarios, come out with (a few) more, and do another outreach effort,” she explained.

The agency expects to have final recommendations for the board of directors by year’s end, Packer said.

Implementing the new fare structure will take several months, she said, so it may be later in 2015 or early next year when riders are introduced to a new fare system.

“Depending upon the outcome of this (round of outreach), we’ll develop an implementation plan and a timeframe for it so we can properly educate our riders,” Packer said.

As for the current fare survey process, information about future public hearings and how to participate in fare surveys will be disseminated through social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Once the final public input is collected and reviewed, the agency will identify the preferred fare proposal, she said.

During her comments, Packer also noted that respondents were especially interested in expansion of service, including more bus routes, more frequency, along with longer hours of operation. Similarly, riders asked for more rail service as well.

She said it will take time to determine how to manage those requests, but UTA will look into ways to accommodate the stated desire for larger transit outreach.

“As we’ve come out of the recession and finished the 2015 projects, we have been very focused on putting as much service on the street we can,” Packer explained. “We added more service this summer, and as we kick off the budget process this fall, the board and staff will be looking at that again. And this input will help.”

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