As we talked about in our last post, UTA officially opened the nation’s newest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the Ogden Express (better known as the OGX), late last month. The roughly 5-mile route connects Ogden’s FrontRunner Station with Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital via downtown Ogden and Harrison Boulevard.
To celebrate, UTRU’s Executive Director took a trip up to Ogden to ride the route to celebrate the grand opening and report back on how he felt taking this “train on wheels.”
Starting My Trip
Living in South Jordan, I knew I was in for an afternoon as I found my way north. To begin my day, I left my home at 12:15 to find my local stop 2 minutes away, hopping on the F514 about 5 minutes after that and arriving at the South Jordan FrontRunner station, where I arrived about 15 minutes before the train arrived right on time at 12:35.
The trip north was pleasantly uneventful, as is usually the case when I ride. My time was spent working on a presentation for our CATT program and a “How to Ride” presentation as part of a recent grant we were awarded from UCAIR and the University of Utah Medical Center. When my train arrived in Ogden at 1:55, I exited and soon found not one, but two OGX buses waiting for me under a very convenient sign.
Catching My Bus
Interestingly, as we were driving off, two people rushed up to tap on the door in hopes of getting let in. The driver was a little annoyed but stopped to let them on. I bring this up because, when those two reached their stop, the driver politely asked them to come to the front of the bus. The driver then explained that they don’t have to rush to catch this bus because it does come so often. I could tell that the two were pleasantly surprised by this fact and every regular transit rider knows the feeling of just missing their bus or train. In Ogden, this reality means that you are waiting a minimum of 30 minutes for your ride.
As I continued on my journey, it became clear that the route and stops were well thought out. This felt like an express route, especially on the sections of road with dedicated bus lanes. That being said, I knew that I was still not far away from local transfers and locations if I were to go deeper into the city. As a transit nerd, I experienced glee as my bus would frequently zoom past lines of cars along both Washington and Harrison Boulevard using dedicated lanes while the priority signaling only added to OGX’s competitive advantage when compared to driving.
I actually exited the bus twice during my trip, the first time was at Weber State Central Station, and the second was at McKay-Dee Hospital. In both situations, but particularly at Weber State, I was impressed at just how intimate and unobtrusive the stops seemed to be. The at-grade entry and exit at all OGX stations create an odd psychological effect that really does make it feel like an organic and natural extension of a walk. Meanwhile, the small ribbon of road finding its way through the Weber State campus almost made it feel like OGX was just a really good transit project the University transit department cooked up and somehow got funding for – not part of a massive, multi-county transit network connecting 2.1 million people.
The 10-minute wait for the next bus also did not feel excessive – just enough time to get a few songs in and check my email, but not long enough for me to think “Oh man, is this bus ever going to come?!”
I soon boarded and arrived at McKay-Dee Hospital a few stops later, ending my trip at about 2:40. Subtracting for the time I got off the bus, this meant that my total travel time from South Jordan to McKay-Dee Hospital took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Were I to drive, it would take me anywhere from about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, depending on traffic and the time of day. One-way fare cost $5.50 (though my FarePay Card cut that down to $4.40); had I driven the 46 miles directly, a fuel-efficient 32 MPG car would still result in having to pay about the same price in gas, and, if you consider the IRS’s mileage deduction rate of 65.5 cents as a more comprehensive look at how much it actually costs to drive, that same trip would have cost me $30.45.
To me, saving $50 per round-trip in exchange for two hours a day to mentally decompress or ease my way into my day, get some extra work in, catch up on Netflix, or do a million other things besides driving, seems like a fair trade.
But, Will it Work?
The answer to this question, I feel, lies in the experience of those two people who were desperately rushing to try and catch the OGX.
The feeling of not having to check my watch and pull up my transit app is a liberating one and one I have not experienced in the decade since I lived in Downtown Salt Lake or my time in Washington D.C. taking the Metro nearly 20 years ago. OGX provides a fast and constant connection to FrontRunner, and is within two blocks of a baseball stadium, 25th Street’s nightlife, movie and traditional theaters, the Ogden Temple, concert venues, high schools, homes, apartments, offices, and, of course, the aforementioned Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital.
And this is why I think OGX will work: OGX goes places. But going places isn’t enough – the key to OGX’s success lies in the 10-minute headways. These headways mean that taking transit to get from one place to another doesn’t feel like a burden, but rather a convenience compared to having to get in the car, deal with traffic, and find a parking spot. Though it is awesome that OGX will be free for the next three years, paying $5 for a round trip still feels well worth the price.
Assuming that UTA doesn’t cut service, I can easily see OGX transforming Ogden the same way TRAX has transformed communities in the Salt Lake Valley.
What made my time on OGX truly impressive was that, at 2 PM on a Thursday, on a system that hasn’t even been open for a month, it was being used. The fewest number of people was 2 (myself and one other rider), and this lasted for exactly one stop at the start of the “return” line at McKay-Dee Hospital. From there the number fluctuated between 25 and about 75% capacity (with one notable exception at Weber State). Seeing as the average capacity of a 5-seat passenger car is 20%, I’d say that’s a success.
What I found interesting was just how many people were boarding and then exiting only one or two stops later rather than staying on just to get to FrontRunner or WSU/McKay-Dee. This express route really does serve the community and appears to be a way for people to move around their neighborhoods. People came on and off the bus carrying bags of groceries, small home goods in boxes, and cups of coffee – the kinds of things people buy as part of their day-to-day lives. In short, OGX appears to be not just an express commuter route, but also an express community route.
The reason for this, and I can’t stress this enough, really is the 10-minute headways. IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME! Again: everything you have read happened at 2 P.M. … on a Thursday!
And this really is the point. The single worst part of my OGX experience had nothing to do with having to take a bit longer due to the fact that buses and trains have to stop to let people on and off. No, the single worst part of my day was when I returned to the Ogden FrontRunner Station and had to wait 40 minutes for my train ride back…In 90-degree weather.
Had I not dawdled and stayed on the bus the entire time, I could have been looking at an hour-long wait.
A 20-minute wait? Sure, maybe, I think most could handle that for a multi-county trip, but we can’t get people over to transit and off the roads if our system looks people square in the eye and tells them that they have to wait an hour before they can even get on the train to get home just because they made a special trip and didn’t plan well enough – now imagine telling that to someone and expect them to do that 5-days a week.
So, in the end, I do think that OGX will be a success. It combines a good mix of areas served with high frequency, and it is my sincere hope that UTA, as well as all other transit systems across the state, receive more funding to allow high-frequency routes to exist.
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