The Utah Transit Authority announced today that it is backing off plans it had of scrapping the free-fare zone for TRAX and buses in downtown Salt Lake City, which comes as good news to low-income advocates who saw the move as one that would strand the city’s low-income who depend on the service to look for jobs and access services.
The Utah Transit Authority has been in negotiations for months with Salt Lake City government to allow it to stop providing the free-fare service in the downtown area, citing annual losses of as much as $100,000 from customers who would misuse the free bus service. Bus riders in the free-fare zone partook in “reverse-fare collection,” meaning that unlike other passengers, they would pay at the end of their trip if they started in the free fare zone. Now, UTA has announced that starting Dec. 9, all passengers will pay for their trips as soon as they get on the bus. Those who will ride a bus just within the free fare zone will be required to declare to the operator where their destination is within the free-fare zone that they will be getting off at.
“The reverse-fare-collection system was confusing both for our customers and our operators,” says UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. “It also, unfortunately, led to some situations where someone didn’t have enough money at the end of their trip or refused to pay. Having everyone pay up front simplifies the process.”
Bill Tibbitts, a low-income advocate with the Crossroads Urban Center, hailed the decision as a victory. “It is good to see that UTA has listened to the public and to city leaders like council member Luke Garrott,” Tibbitts writes via e-mail. “People really like the free-fare zone.”
For more information on the changes and to see a map of the free-fare zone, you can visit UTA’s blog here.