Salt Lake City success

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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Efficiency and effectiveness are the hallmark of award-winning Utah Transit Authority.

Now that its FrontLines 2015 program, a group of five Utah Transit Authority rail projects that added 70 miles to the existing 64-mile rail network, has been completed $300 million under budget and two years ahead of schedule, UTA’s main focus is on increasing frequency of service and better connections. And it’s well on its way.

UTA says its ridership growth more than doubled compared to the national average in 2014—2.17% vs. 0.95% the previous year. Ridership on its FrontRunner regional rail service increased by 15%. Overall, UTA saw a record ridership with more than 45 million boardings in 2014. UTA attributes this success, in part, to last year being the first full year of operation for new rail lines opened under FrontLines 2015, as well as its S-Line streetcar in the Sugarhouse neighborhood, which opened in December 2013.

Projects under FrontLines 2015 included the Mid-Jordan TRAX Line (light rail), running through Murray, Midvale, West Jordan and South Jordan; West Valley City TRAX Line, running from South Salt Lake and West Valley City; Draper TRAX Line, extending current light rail service through Sandy and Draper; Airport TRAX Line, running from downtown Salt Lake City to Salt Lake City International Airport; and the FrontRunner Provo to Salt Lake City Line, offering regional/commuter rail service between downtown Salt Lake City and Provo.

UTA’s record year of ridership led to the agency receiving one of the biggest awards in the public transportation industry in 2014 for its service and effectiveness. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) named UTA the Outstanding Transportation System of 2014.

“This is a great honor that would not have been possible without the dedication of UTA employees and the continued support of our riders,” said UTA General Manager Michael Allegra. “We’re pleased to be recognized for our accomplishments and confident that we’ll continue to grow, improve and provide efficient, innovative public transit for residents of the Watsatch Front.”

The Outstanding Transportation System award is given to organizations in the United States and Canada that have demonstrated efficiency and effectiveness and have made exceptional contributions to the public transportation industry. Three awards are given each year based on transit system size. UTA won the award in the largest category, for systems providing 20 million or more annual passenger trips.

Performance, growth and safety

In addition to increased ridership, UTA set a record in 2014 for on-time performance in both of its rail-oriented modes of transportation—94.57% in TRAX light rail and 92% in FrontRunner commuter rail. UTA is moving ahead on three transit-oriented developments (TOD). In 2014, the agency broke ground on the first two phases of the Sandy TOD; Jordan Valley TOD received approval from the board and West Jordan City for the site and development plan, as well as developer financing; and the Clearfield TOD received approval from the board and the city of site master plan. Design is under way.

“The building of transit oriented development is just one way the Wasatch Front can prepare for future growth,” said Allegra. “The combination of residential, retail and commercial properties with transit helps air quality, population growth and generally makes life better for those that live here. This is a new trend for our community and a catalyst for change.”

Last year, UTA says, it restructured its public safety department for increased outreach and better efficiency, leading to the agency’s best safety record to date, with zero fatalities on the system in 2014.

All modes were below their accident goals, including major accidents on TRAX, which were down 30%. UTA will introduce a number of service improvements that will take effect August 16, 2015. These changes include extended hours on TRAX and the S-Line and increased service on select bus routes.

“UTA has a long tradition of coming in under budget due to our capable staff operating in a lean and efficient manner,” Allegra said. “This year, we achieved enough savings that we are able to invest in service beyond what we had already planned for our upcoming change day.”

Integrated fare structure

In addition to service enhancements, UTA will once again offer FAREPAY discounts of up to 20% on TRAX and FrontRunner, and will add a new 40% FAREPAY discount for bus riders. UTA will also offer its popular $10 Group Pass, which allows up to four people to make a round trip on buses, TRAX and FrontRunner between 8:30 a.m. and midnight on the day of purchase. Both the FAREPAY promotion and the Group Pass special pricing will begin July 1 and run through Dec. 31. These fare promotions, UTA said, are designed to thank riders for 45 years of support and encourage them to take advantage of UTA’s new summer holiday schedule, as the agency now offers service on many holidays including Independence Day, Pioneer Day and Labor Day.

“This year, as we celebrate more than four decades of service, we wanted a way to say thank you to our riders,” Allegra said. “We hope FAREPAY promotion and our new Group Pass pricing make it more convenient for families and groups to ride UTA to events and celebrations taking place this summer.”

UTA implements service changes three times per year. The Aug. 16 change will extend TRAX Sunday hours of operation to match Saturday hours and extend S-Line hours of operation to match TRAX, seven days a week.

“As with its service changes, UTA staff continues to look for opportunities to introduce strategic fare products and promotions in response to emerging market opportunities and to introduce our services to new riders,” the agency said.

Good hosts

UTA has been chosen to host several major transportation conferences this year, including the APTA Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo. The APTA event is expected to bring nearly 2,000 global transit representatives to Salt Lake City, showcasing the recently completed FrontLines 2015 rail expansion program and generating millions of dollars for the local economy, the agency said.

In addition to the APTA Rail Conference, UTA also hosted the Smart Card Alliance Payments Summit in February and the National Transit Institute Transit Academy in April, and will also be hosting the APTA Risk Management Seminar in June.

Allegra credits UTA’s outreach efforts for helping draw these visitors to the state. Over the past two years, UTA has invested $800,000 in travel to pursue numerous competitive funding opportunities, to learn best industry practices used by other transit agencies, and to take part in groundbreaking transit think tanks and seminars. Utah residents “see a return on that investment many times over,” Allegra said, in the form of money generated by conferences, federal transportation grants and cost-saving improvements to the UTA system.

UTA’s proactive outreach efforts have already helped secure discretionary federal funding used to expand the system and bring state-of-the art technology to the region. Over the past decade, UTA has received more than $1.7 billion in discretionary and formula federal grants. The agency was able to obtain $29 million in federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II funding to open the S-Line streetcar and help revitalize neighborhoods in South Salt Lake and Salt Lake City. In addition, two of UTA’s FrontLines 2015 projects, the Mid-Jordan TRAX Line and Draper TRAX Line, were built using more than $544 million in federal funds.

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