Thursday, August 21, 2014

SLC To Halt Sales Of Hive Pass; Assess Program

Posted By on August 21, 2014, 6:10 PM

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Salt Lake City will halt sales on Aug. 29 of its Hive Pass, that steeply discounted mass transit pass hailed as a way to increase transit ridership and help to clean up the Wasatch Front’s filthy air.

The city and the Utah Transit Authority had pledged to sell the pass during a six-month pilot period, after which the success and future of the pass would be determined. As that six-month window comes to a close, the pass has failed to gain the foothold officials had hoped, selling slightly more than 2,500 of the 6,000-pass goal.

Art Raymond, a city spokesman, says the low sales won’t necessarily damn the pass' future, and city and transit officials hope the program will live on. But he says ending the program altogether is a “possibility.”

“There’s a shared optimism between us and the transit authority that through our collaborative process we can find a way to ensure an ongoing Hive presence as a transit product for Salt Lake City riders,” Raymond says.

Raymond attributed the lag in sales to the city’s overly ambitious goals. For a new product, he says it was perhaps unrealistic to hope for widespread support. Some City Council members have said marketing efforts for the Hive Pass lagged.

The pass, though, is wildly cheap. At $360, the pass, which includes access to Trax trains, FrontRunner and bus services, is more than $2,000 less than a comparable pass sold by UTA.

A Hive Pass rider would only have to take two round-trips on transit per week to get the full money’s worth of the pass, Raymond says.

“This is a very affordable way to make transit a regular part of your getting-around option,” Raymond says.

The pass was only made available to Salt Lake City residents—a clear limiting factor on the number of people who might be interested in such a pass.

Raymond and UTA officials say they’ve received queries from other communities along the Wasatch Front about the program. But until the two parties analyze the success or failures of the pilot program, little will be known about the pass' future in Salt Lake City or elsewhere.

The passes went on sale on March 1, just as the Salt Lake Valley entered spring and exited its phases of inversion-like weather, where high pressure systems trap pollution in the valley. In recent years, the Wasatch Front has become well-known for its toxic air, ranking it high on the list of cities with the filthiest air in the country, and even the world.

Utah air quality experts say automobile pollution accounts for the largest slice of the pollution pie—a fact not lost on Salt Lake officials, who, with the Hive Pass, hoped to win over people who found the $2.50 one-way ticket for a UTA transit ride too steep to step out from behind the wheel.

“We have an ongoing, chronic, horrible air quality challenge,” Raymond says. “Every car trip that’s saved by somebody using their Hive Pass is a direct, measurable, positive impact to help with our air quality issues.”

Raymond says coming up with a way to sell the passes was a challenge for the city, which has never been in the retail business. He says $150,000 in largely one-time money was set aside for administrative costs associated with the program, including purchasing machines to print the passes.

Should the Hive Pass program continue, Raymond says the lion’s share of the systems needed to continue selling the passes are in place, including the monthly billing system, which allows residents to pay for the pass in $30 increments.

Money will likely end up being what either dooms the Hive Pass, or ensures its future. The city pays UTA only what it receives from those who buy the pass. Though Raymond says he isn’t sure what UTA’s break-even point is, there was talk early on in the program that this threshold was near the 6,000 pass goal. This means that when the dollars are counted and the Hive Pass is analyzed, UTA could end up eating the remainder of the costs associated with the pass.

Remi Barron, a UTA spokesman, says this might well be the case, though UTA officials won’t know until they sit down with the city to dissect the successes and failures of the program.

“Even with the 2,500 passes that have sold, I can’t tell you that we’ve lost money,” he says. “We still haven’t had a chance to analyze it.”

Because the pilot program was relatively short at six months, and it didn’t occur during the most visibly polluted months, Barron says it’s possible that the pilot period could be extended beyond Aug. 29.

But, for now at least, the end date is growing near. Any passes bought are good for a year from the date they’re purchased, and even if the program is discontinued, they will be honored until they expire.

More information about the passes and where they can be purchased can be found at www.ridewithhive.com

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