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UTA planning nearly $10 million in improvements for 2017

SALT LAKE CITY — Riders of public transit in Utah can look forward to an improved passenger experience in the coming year.

The Utah Transit Authority has budgeted nearly $10 million to upgrade technology on commuter rail, as well as fare payment and other improvements in 2017.

Having spent hundreds of millions of dollars to expand rail lines along the Wasatch Front over the past several years, the agency is now focusing on enhancing the rider experience, explained Clair Fiet, UTA chief information officer.

At the top of UTA's list is upgraded Wi-Fi service on FrontRunner.

“The (new) customer experience should be a pleasant one,” Fiet said. “It will be more reliable, better connectivity and more bandwidth.”

UTA will also install a new way for riders to pay fares, he said.

“So on a (mobile device), riders can buy tickets and have them available whenever they want to ride a bus or train,” Fiet said.

The mobile ticketing feature will be available through a third-party application that can be downloaded on a smartphone or tablet, he noted.

“You can (accumulate) a ‘wallet of tickets,’ then you can choose one to activate and use from your phone,” Fiet said. “You would need to show it to a bus driver or ticket officer (on TRAX and FrontRunner) as proof of payment.”

The new ticketing options should be ready to use by the second quarter of the New Year, Fiet said.

“All of the (card) readers on the buses and train platforms that we currently use for our fare collection are going to be replaced,” Fiet said.

The estimated cost of changing out all electronic card readers is about $3.7 million, he said.

For future convenience, UTA is also considering installing additional electronic signs on rail platforms to let riders know when the next train is scheduled to arrive. Currently, each platform only has signs at one end of the station.

Overall, the estimated cost of the planned improvements for 2017 totals about $9.9 million, Fiet said.

Last month, new UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson told the agency’s board of trustees that the organization would focus on getting “back to basics” in the coming years, with the agency putting particular priority on people, money and service.

Along with upgrades, UTA will be replacing 59 buses in 2017, and conducting repairs and maintenance on rail platforms and other light-rail assets, he said. The agency will also expand service in counties that approved a sales tax increase — Davis, Tooele and Weber.

It's "nuts-and-bolts work that people take for granted, but that keeps the buses and trains rolling to get them to work and school on time,” Benson said.