Professional survey research — along with conversations with friends and family — continue to show that air quality is one of the top two or three issues of concern to Utahns.

So, what can we as citizens do? The easy steps have been taken, but the Legislature has provided tools to help clean up the air by significantly boosting the use of public transit, taking vehicles off the roads.

Vehicles contribute to about half of our air quality problems, and Utah’s population is growing rapidly, with about 60,000 additional people added annually, mostly along the Wasatch Front. That means more vehicles on the road every year, creating more pollution and more congestion.

It’s important to note that Utah has made excellent progress on air quality over the past several years, thanks to great efforts by governments, nonprofits and citizens. But much more remains to be done.

Improved public transit has the potential to remove many more vehicles from the roads, producing several benefits: better air quality, less highway congestion, fewer traffic accidents, improved productivity and reduced family transportation costs.

For all those benefits to be achieved, public transit along the Wasatch Front needs to be taken to a new level to attract significantly higher ridership.

Thankfully, Utah’s Legislature, governor, local leaders and transportation agencies have recognized the value of public transit and have provided several new tools to increase funding and boost ridership.

The Utah Transit Authority is currently undergoing many changes. I want to thank UTA’s leadership, trustees and staff for excellent work over many decades. Their efforts have produced a well-run transit system with an excellent backbone of rail service. This was accomplished with about half the ongoing funding that peer metropolitan areas in the West have devoted to transit. That’s a remarkable achievement.

Now a fresh start is underway for UTA with an entirely new governance structure. CEO and general manager Jerry Benson and board chairman Greg Bell have served well in this time of transition. While the changes have created some unease, the good news is that with these changes the Legislature has authorized significant new transit funding for local governments to enact, in addition to new state transit funding, which could grow in future years.

Benson, who deserves praise for his decades of work to enhance public transit in Utah, notes two barriers to increased ridership on public transit: cost and convenience.

Local governments now have the opportunity to increase funding to extend transit systems and increase frequency of buses and trains. UTA is also working on “first and last mile” solutions, so that commuters can easily get to final destinations.

Benson has created an innovation center to study how UTA can take advantage of new technologies and services such as Uber and Lyft, autonomous vehicles and connected highways. Dial-a-ride and flex routes that create mobility on demand can make public transit more convenient for thousands of users.

Clearly, public transit doesn’t work for everyone. But it does work for a lot of people who travel to the same destination every day. One-fourth of commuters traveling to the central business district use public transit. One-third of University of Utah commuters use public transit.

It’s possible that a family could even avoid having to purchase a second (or third) car if individuals and families learn the transit system. At the IRS mileage rate, a vehicle used for a 30-mile round-trip commute 20 days a month costs $320. A monthly transit pass for unlimited bus and TRAX use costs about $84. And public transit riders can read or work while traveling.

Increased public transit use can certainly help improve air quality and reduce highway congestion. Local government leaders should take advantage of the tools the Legislature has given them to take transit ridership to new levels.