Salt Lake City School District, UTA expand partnership to provide more access to public transit
UTA’s On Demand service saw a big spike in usage when the school year started last year, an indication that many students utilize UTA to get to and from school
The Utah Transit Authority and the Salt Lake City School District last year struck a historic partnership that gave 25,000 free transit passes to all students, faculty and staff in the district.
One year later, that partnership has been expanded to give even more people access to public transportation — allowing a parent or guardian from each student household to receive a pass.
"This pass saves time, gas and money for both parents and employees. It's convenient transportation to and from school for both students and faculty, (and) the pass is a safe alternative to driving and walking," said Carlton Christensen, chairman of the UTA Board of Trustees.
Christensen said that UTA's On Demand service saw a big spike in usage when the school year started last year, an indication that many students utilize UTA to get to and from school. In the first year of the partnership, UTA saw a 645% increase in student ridership.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall last year said that the partnership took at least a decade of planning and conversations to piece together. On Thursday, she reflected on the success of the program and its cumulative impacts from giving more students, faculty and staff a reliable means of transportation to taking cars off the road and cutting vehicular emissions.
She added that she believes public transit usage is "at the crux" of the quality of life and the future of the Salt Lake Valley and that the partnership will allow students who might have relied on other forms of transportation to take advantage of after-school opportunities, jobs and internships.
Recently appointed district superintendent Elizabeth Grant was also on hand to acknowledge the second year of the partnership, saying that education is a community affair.
"This is a sign of the support for education across our city," Grant said.
Grant also said that more than half of the students in the district come from low-income families. According to AAA data, the average price of gas in Utah is currently $4.32 per gallon, higher than the national average of $3.82.
"Every dollar saved in transportation makes a great deal of difference to our families," Grant said, also acknowledging its impact on emissions. "Sharing rides improves our air quality here in Salt Lake City. So having thousands of rides affecting thousands of our students, as well as their families, has an impact in Salt Lake."
Derek Wilhelm, a senior and student body president at West High School, joked that "you must be doing something right" getting picked up by a UTA vehicle worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Now that the district is providing passes for everyone, that means more opportunities for all sorts of families and access for all kinds of studying, adventure, work and more. For that, I'm grateful for the UTA and the district," Wilhelm said.
At the launch of the partnership last year, Mendenhall said the city mentioned the type of partnership during previous discussions with UTA. It came to fruition when the Salt Lake City Council set aside the final $100,000 needed to complete the funding for the passes with the approval of the city’s 2023 fiscal year budget.
The remaining $279,000 came from the Salt Lake City Education Foundation and Salt Lake City School District, according to Kensey Kunkel, UTA's manager of business development and sales.
"This is an awesome partnership; but most of all, it's an example of how we work together and how we work together to solve what have been intractable problems and creating intergenerational cycles of thriving," Mendenhall said.