Recently, UTA announced its Long-Range Transit Plan (LTRP): UTA Moves 2050.
The plan is a wide-ranging one that can be thought of as a wish list for UTA that, in their own words, is not constrained by pesky things like budgets.
UTRU has reviewed the plan and has responded. Over the coming week, we will release our thoughts on the plan based on geographic area – but if you just can’t wait, you can view the full response now by clicking here.
Our release schedule will be as follows:
Today: Introduction to UTRU, UTRU’s opinion of the plan, and an Executive Summary
Tuesday: System Wide Review
Wednesday: Salt Lake County Review
Thursday: Utah County Review
Friday: Davis and Weber Counties Review
Saturday: Tooele, Box Elder, and Summit Counties Review
This response was approved by UTRU’s Board of Directors on October 17, 2023, and presented to UTA on October 30, 2023.
The Utah Transit Riders Union (UTRU) was formed in 2014 to act as a voice for transit riders across the state of Utah. UTRU is one of nearly 50 formal, independent, transit advocacy organizations in North America, and such organizations work with, against, and alongside their respective transit agencies, local, regional, and state/provincial governments, and citizens to fight for better transit. UTRU is just one of two such organizations with a statewide focus.
UTRU strives to make transit that is:
- Reliable – Reliable transit systems allow people to make life-changing decisions about where and how to live—confident that their decisions will remain valid over the long term. Reliable transit systems also re-enfranchise disadvantaged persons by offering them a way to be vibrant members of their immediate and extended communities.
- Accessible – Accessible transit systems actively serve the needs of minority or disadvantaged communities who, in turn, become fundamental to the system’s long-term strategic and financial health. When accessibility is a priority, all transit users are better served.
- Comfortable – Comfortable transit systems encourage widespread adoption by the community, resulting in increased ridership and more political capital. Comfortable transit systems achieve these goals by reinforcing the dignity and safety of the rider.
- Efficient – Efficient transit systems are able to accomplish more with limited resources. This includes not only serving more riders but also serving them better. Efficient transit systems honor their host communities by being resource-aware and resource-wise.
- Affordable – Affordable transit systems understand their roles as community infrastructure. Transit isn’t an amenity, it’s a necessity.
In addition, we strive to create a transit-affirming culture that legitimizes transit and reinforces the dignity of the transit rider. In so doing, we want to greatly increase transit use and inoculate riders against the occasional inconveniences they bear. Put another way, transit affirmation grows and empowers a loyal user base.
UTRU’s Opinion of the Long-Rage Transit Plan: UTA Moves 2050
As part of our duties, we wish to provide the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) with this formal response to their Long-Range Transit Plan: UTA Moves 2050 (LRTP) on behalf of our members who currently use UTA’s services, as well as those who may use the system in the future.
In short: UTRU’s opinion of the LRTP is…complicated.
Though the LRTP is stated by UTA as being unbound by cost restrictions, UTRU recognizes that, as a quasi-governmental organization, proposals from UTA automatically attract increased scrutiny. Therefore, though UTA may not be restricted by costs in the LRTP, it certainly is restricted by political pressures.
Because of this, UTRU approached its response to such a far-reaching and high-level document with two views in mind.
The first response makes up the majority of what is contained in our response: a county-by-county analysis of the proposed service changes, additions, and removals as outlined in the LRTP. The suggestions we make, we feel, fit within the general parameters that UTA imposed upon itself when creating the LRTP in the first place and merit review and possible modification within the universe where the rules of the LRPT exist.
The second approach, however, is far larger.
COVID changed many things, including how we view transportation and transit. With remote work exploding during the pandemic and showing no signs of decreasing in popularity. UTRU feels that the LRTP was an opportunity to imagine a transit system that wasn’t just tailored to the 9-5, Monday through Friday commuter but was, instead, built for the mom taking their child to school, the teen who was meeting friends at a park on the weekend, the couple going out on the town on a Friday night, the retiree who volunteers Tuesday afternoons, and the professional who has a 2 PM meeting at a coffee shop across town. Here, we feel that the LRTP fell well short.
UTRU is in the early phases of creating its own version of a long-range plan. Transit: Imagined asks a simple question: what if 2.1 million Utahns, stretching from Logan to Nephi and from Tooele to Heber, lived, worked, and played within a 10-minute walk to a bus, BRT, light rail, and/or commuter rail line? What if that route had, at minimum, 15-minute arrivals? And what if that service was available 365 days a year?
In short, it is a plan where there are more buses and trains, and that they are everywhere all the time.
Ambitious? Absolutely. But this vision is truly unrestrained by cost and is designed to be the blueprint for a world-class transit system where people don’t need a personal vehicle to live, work, and play if they don’t want one and, instead, have the freedom to travel without needing a personal vehicle.
Compared to Transit: Imagined, the LRTP falls well short. Some early ideas from Transit: Imagined do find their way into our critique of the LRTP, however, we do feel that our suggestions are still practical within the bounds of the LRTP.
The comments contained in this response were unanimously approved by UTRU’s Board of Directors on October 17, 2023, and submitted on October 30, 2023.
UTRU has provided a review of the LRTP in five sections: General systemwide improvements, Salt Lake County, Utah County, Weber and Davis Counties, and Tooele, Box Elder, and Summit Counites collectively. Within these sections are areas within the respective counties (i.e. Salt Lake City or Southern Davis County) where UTRU provides comment on specific routes, plans, or details we are in favor of, have concerns with, or simply have more to speak on.
Because stating that we disapprove of something is not productive, UTRU attempts, wherever possible, to provide solutions or alternate ideas to consider within the internal logic of the LRTP. Though UTRU would like to see more transit everywhere, all the time (as we advocate for with our Transit: Imagined initiative), we understand that UTA has outside constraints to consider.
UTRU is generally supportive of the LTRP, and we are pleased to see that increasing service frequency and the creation of more rapid transit lines were a particular focus of UTA. It is UTRU’s opinion that these actions help improve the reliability, accessibility, and efficiency of the system, ultimately resulting in increased ridership as a percentage of the total population. To this end, UTRU intends to work hand in hand with UTA in whatever ways possible to help see these plans become a reality.
UTRU also appreciates the emphasis the LTRP makes regarding UTA’s workforce. The system has been struggling with operator shortages post-COVID, and these issues could have been addressed sooner. Though the current issues appear to be resolving themselves, there is still some lag that may take 1-3 years to fully resolve. It appears that UTA may have learned its lesson regarding working conditions and pay as the plan does make nodes to their workforce.
The plan does rely heavily on Innovative Mobility Solutions Zones (IMSZ) to help increase the overall service area footprint–something that raises red flags in the eyes of UTRU.
Though UTRU is not inherently opposed to the use of IMSZs to increase overall service and recognizes that IMSZs, when deployed in communities where the personal automobile and not walkability/transit was the primary planning consideration, can be a way to increase ridership overall we are concerned that IMSZs are being used to replace traditional fixed-route services by UTA rather than supplement them. Our cause for concern originates in the fact that, in UTRU’s opinion, we have witnessed this exact behavior from UTA in all current iterations of IMSZs to varying degrees within the current system, and feel that this is the underlying motivation for most usages of IMSZs in the LRTP.
In such situations, we are opposed.
While IMSZs offer flexibility and a far wider service area when providing transit services to a community when compared to a fixed-route bus line, their unpredictable arrival times, combined with their limited service area when compared to for-profit rideshare or taxi services, make them inferior to both. In addition, when compared to an automobile, their perceived higher costs for shorter trips also make them a less appealing option.
It is for these reasons that UTRU feels that IMSZs should only be used when residential and commercial development is so sparse that it cannot reasonably support a fixed route bus line on its own. In such situations, UTRU would still only fully support an IMSZ if it was anchored by, at minimum, one 15-minute fixed route line and that the fixed-route still maintains a catchment area of 1 to 2 miles. This rationale, we feel, encourages usage of the IMSZ for local trips, while also allowing people easier access to the larger network.
In many situations within the LRPT, UTA appears to be using IMSZs as a replacement, and not a supplement to fixed routes. In these situations, UTRU will always be opposed.
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