In the past few years, multiple short term zero-fare studies and programs have eliminated the cost of public transit in an effort to improve our air quality and mobility. From these reports, Utah has seen a positive increase in ridership and a significant decrease in vehicle source emissions, which is the largest contributor to our air pollution throughout the year.
In February of 2022 the Salt Lake City’s Mayor’s office and a variety of public and private funders came together to cover the cost of fares for the entire month of February
Final data provided by UTA for “Free Fare February” shows a 16% increase in weekday ridership system-wide; a 58% spike on Saturdays (with an astounding 202% increase on Frontrunner trains); and a nearly 33% increase on Sundays (when only buses and TRAX are available)
Reports also saw an estimated savings of 68 tons of criteria air pollutant generation due to transit ridership (this is the amount of air pollutants that would have been generated had 47% of riders driven instead)
Read the full report here.
ZERO-FARES FOR CLEAN AIR
Everyone benefits from increased ridership of public transit, even for those who don’t use it often, because the economic and air quality benefits would be felt by everyone
- In Utah, vehicles are the largest contributor to smog-causing PM2.5 pollution in the Salt Lake Valley (SLV).
Health issues associated with mobile source pollution range from shortness of breath to aggravated lung disease, asthma, and premature death. In the SLV, where a large percentage of Utahns live, communities experience an average of 40 days of pollutant levels above the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) due to a combination of weather-related events, topography, and emissions.
A Typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which exacerbates the human and environmental consequences of global warming. These negative impacts include extreme heat and heat islands, drought, and more severe fire seasons in Utah and throughout the west. These environmental and human impacts will only get worse unless we shift away from a reliance on passenger vehicles and toward a public transportation system that benefits all Utahns.
- Support for families: this program would offset the price of gasoline in a time when gas prices are increasingly unstable.
- By increasing ridership, Utah will be more competitive for federal grants and funding from the Federal Transit Administration
REQUEST FOR A YEAR PILOT PROGRAM
Senator Weiler has requested for a $25.5 million one-time appropriation to fund a statewide zero-fare transit pilot program and study for one year. The goal of this program is to see an increase of 24-36% increase in ridership and a measurable reduction in single occupancy vehicle trips, which would be tied to a reduction in emissions.
- $25 million will go to the Department of Transportation to distribute to Utah’s public transit districts, which charge fees, to replace transit fares. $500,000 will go to study ridership, economic, and environmental impacts.
- They are asking that UTA fare subsidy partners continue to pay subsidies that total to over $13 Million
Past pilot programs have all been short-term, with Free Fare February being the longest at one month. This one-year pilot program will help us understand the positive impacts public transit would have on our air quality and mobility.
This action alert is now closed. Thank you for providing public comment regarding this issue. Unfortunately, zero-fares was not a priority for lawmakers this year but our team will continue to advocate and work on ways to increase access and expansion to public transportation.