Free Rides | Urban Living

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Free Rides

Posted By on September 21, 2022, 4:00 AM

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Many of us would like to see mass transit offered free to riders, since so much funding for mass transit already comes from government monies beyond fares. After serving for two years as a Utah Transit Authority trustee, I learned how necessary mass transit is for so many, how economical it can be for commuters and how it's already free in the downtown area (albeit poorly advertised).

This summer, the UTA Board of Trustees approved a program to offer free transit passes to any student, faculty and staff member in the Salt Lake City School District. Huzzah! This pilot program will help authorities gauge what difference free fares can make and provide a look at possibilities for the future.

The cost was just under $400,000 for the year. The school district and education foundation kicked in roughly $300,000, and Salt Lake City paid the remaining balance.

The University of Utah, Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College already partner with UTA to offer students and staff free transit on most UTA services—including buses, Trax trains and streetcars, Frontrunner and UTA on Demand. Student passes do not include paratransit, ski buses or Park City routes. However, Park City residents who are enrolled at the U and can prove they have a Summit County ZIP code can get a Park City eConnect Pass from commuter services (

SLC students make up a huge number of UTA riders, but it's hoped that school/university employees will also take mass transit.

Created in 1970, UTA wasn't the first to offer mass transit to locals. That honor goes to Salt Lake Railroad Co., which in 1872, offered public transit in the form of a cart drawn by two mules. It traveled from 300 West and South Temple to Main Street and 300 South, costing riders a whopping 5 cents. Brigham Young was elected to direct the company until Congress outlawed church businesses.

Electric streetcars followed in 1889. Within a year, there were eight streetcars on nine miles of tracks. The service ran into the same problems Frontrunner is experiencing now—they only had a single track, which doesn't offer efficient service. Also, the electric wires overhead weren't always reliable.

In 1935, there were just over 15 million tickets sold for various transit options. In the 1940s, transit expanded to a massive trolley system, trolley buses and gas-powered buses, and by 1946, there were 33 million passengers.

When soldiers returned from World War II, they wanted to get married, purchase a home on a VA loan (no down payment) and buy a car. This trend marked a sharp decline in transit ridership. Since then, for so many, mass transit has become something on the back burner.

About The Author

Babs De Lay

Babs De Lay

A full-time broker/owner of Urban Utah Homes and Estates, Babs De Lay serves on the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission. A writer and golfer, you'll find them working as a staff guardian at the Temple at Burning Man each year.

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