Image by Metro Library and Archive via Flickr
Back in January Yonah Freemark in his Transport Politic blog talked about a program in Baltimore which is starting local circulator routes separate from the main MTA bus service. The city is financing the routes through a additional fee on parking.
Cities Develop Alternative Bus Networks to Combat Perceived Disadvantages of Mainline Routes
If you look at the Los Angeles area, many cities sponsor their own transit service over and beyond the main bus routes operated by MTA and select other operators. These services are funded by a sales tax initiative that provided construction funds for rail transit and a city option fund.
The city of Pasadena for example started with a shuttle down their main shopping districts streets of Colorado and lake and have expanded the service to cover most of their city plus replace some low ridership MTA routes in which that agency could no longer afford to operate.
Here is a map of the Pasadena network:
In the past we have heard calls for UTA it reduce bus fares in the city of Salt Lake. While the cost per passenger is less in the city than in the rest of the county because of its higher density, it is fair to charge people different rates just because they are boarding in a certain area? Some would say yes some would argue the opposite. If UTA was to reduce bus fares just in the city of Salt Lake then the city of Salt Lake should fund that reduction through their general fund.
Instead of creating a nightmare for UTA drivers with fares, the city of Salt Lake could look at creating its own network of circulators in the city. The city could take over Route 500 from UTA plus provide service to the new Harmons, the library, Trolley Square and senior citizen housing in the area. In other words improve the transportation options for the many new residents moving into the downtown area and vicinity.
The service could be contracted out to a company such as Le Bus or Lewis Brothers Stages to provide the drivers and the maintenance of the vehicles.
To fund the system the city could look at property taxes which are never popular, or through parking fees like the city of Baltimore is doing. This will avoid the volatility of the sales tax which is hampering current UTA services.
One of the things I have repeatability pointed out is that the current system of funding transit systems in the US is very volatile and we have seen that during this extended period of economic downturn. In good times sales tax goes up and in bad times often when it is needed the most by the transit system sales tax receipts go down.
The city could also look at taking over UTA routes that operate all within their borders. If Salt Lake where to do that they would need to insure ease of transferability between their system and the UTA if fares are to be charged. The last thing you want to do is create two separate systems that don't cooperate with each other like in some other cities like the Los Angeles region.
What this alternative transit should not be used for is a way to stick it to the UTA. The primary purpose in establishing an alternative transit line would be to improve the transit options for the residents, visitors and workers in the area. If the primary purpose of the system becomes a way to stick it to the UTA, it is doomed to failure.